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Martinez.jpg (12496 bytes) (Reprint from The Naples, January 28, 2004)

Marine, a Naples native, saves men from crashed car

January 28, 2004

Life has a way of showcasing both the best and worst in human nature, oftentimes simultaneously.

Jorge Martinez, a 20-year-old Marine and Naples native, two weeks removed from boot camp, pulled two Guatemalan men from a burning Saturn sedan early Tuesday morning on Interstate 75 in Estero.

Meanwhile, a few hundred yards up the highway, the two occupants of a white Cadillac Escalade — who Lee County authorities believe were responsible for the hit-and-run crash — disappeared from the scene.

Both fire and sheriff's sources said the two men in the Saturn — 40-year-old Raul Escober and 27-year-old Alvaro Leiva, were transported to Lee Memorial Hospital in Fort Myers, though hospital staff couldn't find records of either being admitted.

"My wife and I have been worried about how they're doing," Martinez said.

Mandy and Jorge Martinez were heading to his parents' Naples home from MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa. It was just after 2:30 a.m. and Jorge, a 2001 graduate of Lely High School, was sleeping as Mandy piloted their truck south on I-75.

Mandy pulled the truck over and woke her husband when she saw a set of headlights from the northbound lanes skip across the median and into a wooded area just west of the highway.

Jorge Martinez jumped from the truck and ran to the wrecked Saturn while Mandy called 911. Jorge said the car was filling with smoke and both Escober and Leiva were unconscious. Both soon awoke in a panic with the doors stuck shut.

Martinez said he was able to speak to the two men, but as he told them not to panic he heard a loud burst from under the hood as flames began to emerge at the front of the car.

Martinez said he placed his left foot on the rear passenger door and simply "pulled as hard as I could." The door opened by 1' feet, giving him just enough room to pull the men from the car.

"This act saved their lives," said Estero Fire Rescue Battalion Chief Chris Krajic.

Within 90 seconds, with everyone a safe distance away, the Saturn was fully engulfed in flames. Estero Fire Rescue firefighters soon arrived and put out the burning car.

"The first thing that hit me was what I learned at boot camp about taking the challenge," Martinez said. "My challenge was assessing the situation, checking out what happened and helping the two gentlemen. My training taught me not to panic no matter what, to step up, take charge and take care of what was going on."

Investigators believe the Saturn was rear-ended by the Escalade as the two vehicles traveled north on I-75 near Corkscrew Road. Both vehicles went across the median, across the southbound lanes and stopped in the wooded area west of the highway a few hundred yards apart.

A passerby, apparently unaware another vehicle was involved in the crash, picked up the two occupants of the Escalade and drove them to a gas station on Corkscrew Road, said Ileana LiMarzi, a Lee County Sheriff's Office public information officer. Investigators interviewed the passerby, who was unable to provide a description, LiMarzi said.

The Escalade was registered to a Fort Myers address and was not reported stolen. Deputies had not made any arrests late Tuesday and asked that anyone with information contact the Sheriff's Office at 477-1000 or Lee County Crime Stoppers at 1-800-780-TIPS.