Good Samaritan ushered children to safety in Palm Harbor gas station fire

·2 min read

Jared Pierson said he was panhandling with a friend near the exit of a Publix in Palm Harbor on Wednesday afternoon when the two heard a crash.

Pierson, 34, thought it was just another fender bender. Then he saw the flames at the Circle K gas station across the road. A Honda sport utility vehicle had caught fire after a Nissan sedan had been backed into a gas pump, knocking the pump over onto the Honda.

“We ran across the street,” Pierson said. “And by the time I was halfway across the street I was calling 911 and the SUV was exploding.”

According to the Florida Highway Patrol, the fire started about 2 p.m. Wednesday. A woman was killed while pumping her gas after the pump fell, pinning her to her Honda. Troopers identified Pierson, a man experiencing homelessness, as a Good Samaritan who helped keep the woman’s children safe in the aftermath of the fire.

Pierson talked to first responders on the phone. They said they were already on their way. He saw two children trying to put out the fire with extinguishers. A woman pulled them back from the flames.

He asked them if anyone was in the car and they said their mom was trapped in the vehicle. But when Pierson looked in the car he didn’t see anyone. He said if he had known a woman was trapped behind the vehicle, he would have tried to help her.

Onlookers stopped by to watch the blaze at the gas station, which is near a McDonald’s. Pierson took the kids across the street to safety.

“Pretty much the whole town was outside and I tried to get everybody to get away from the McDonald’s and the gas station and to go across the street,” Pierson said.

Florida Highway Patrol spokesperson Sgt. Steve Gaskins said the children are a 14-year-old girl and an 11-year-old boy. They were in the car when it caught fire but left the vehicle and tried to save their mother.

While the Florida Highway Patrol did not name the family, a GoFundMe identified them as the Caballes family. As of Thursday evening, nearly 650 donors had contributed more than $48,000 to the fundraiser.

Pierson said he planned to catch the bus to Tarpon Springs on Thursday to attend a scheduled prayer service in memory of the woman who died. Wednesday’s tragedy, he said, was “the most horrible thing I’ve ever seen before Christmas in my entire adult life.”

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