Dramatic Rescue: Officers save mentally distressed man just before burning van explodes


Editor note: pictures can be found below.

Not often enough are the heroics of the men and women in blue caught on camera for the world to understand the choices they have to make day after day.

San Jose Police Officers Chris Perelli, Tim Wright and Gregory Wharton responded to report of a man acting irately parking lot of a school.  The caller stated that the individual was yelling and throwing things, according to The Mercury News’ Jason Green.

Upon arrival at the scene, Officers Perelli and Wright located the 56-year old homeless man near a parked van. They requested that individual step away from the vehicle but the man refused.

They quickly noticed smoke and realized that the vehicle was actually on fire. Instead of cooperating with the police, the man instead attempted to get inside the burning vehicle and managed to clutch to a tire.

Realizing that the man was suffering some sort of mental health crisis, the officer jumped into action.

“It was less than 60 seconds because we saw smoke and by the time we were processing that, it was a rescue,” Officer Tim Wright recalled to KGO-TV’s Kris Reyes.

The vehicle was quickly entirely engulfed in flames and the officers did not have much time. The homeless man still clung to the tire and refused to retreat from the flames. Acting quickly, Officer Wharton fired his taser causing the man to release.

The officers then grabbed the man and dragged him away from the vehicle. Just moments later, the van exploded in the spot the officers and homeless man had just been.

One of the officer quoted in his report “large explosion erupted from within the van, blowing out the van’s windows and buckling the van’s roof” Reyes reports.

San Jose Fire Department responded to the scene and was able to extinguish the burning van. The explosion was significant enough to spread to a nearby tree also engulfing it in flames. Little did the officers know at the time, but van was carrying several propane tanks, according to Green.

The man was transported to a local area hospital where he was treated for smoke inhalation as well as burns on his hands. He was further placed on a psychiatric hold, Green reports.  

San Jose Police Chief Eddie Garcia applauded the actions of the officers in a tweet saying:

“As chief, I have the honor of working with these men and women. This is why I love those who put on this uniform and run head-on, and not away, from the unknown dangers of each day! These pictures needed to be shared.”

San Jose Officer Gina Tepoorten also reflected to Mercury News “These officers risked their lives to help this individual.”

The homeless man was cited with resisting arrest for his actions which put all of those involved in danger. However, the officers have a more important message to send. “We just want the community to know that we’re here for everybody, unhoused, people with mental health issues, the rest of the community,” said Officer Chris Pirelli to ABCNews7.

Let’s give this team of officers a shout out for their selfless actions in truly protecting and serving all the people of San Jose!

Did you know that Law Enforcement Today has a private new home for those who support emergency responders and veterans?  It’s called LET Unity, and it’s where we share the untold stories of those patriotic Americans.  Every penny gets reinvested into giving these heroes a voice.  Check it out today.

LET Unity

We don’t see these stories often enough… yet they happen all of the time.

Take, for example, what happened back in May.  Heavy rains gave way to dangerous floods in Austin, Texas, trapping 3 travelers and their dog in their vehicle while water rushed past.

Those 3 women and their pup are now safe, thanks to the quick and brave actions of Austin Police.

As the flood waters rose, authorities received a 911 call alerting them to a woman crying out near Old Bee Caves Road. 

Officers Benjamin Cochran and Matthew Valli were among the first on the scene. They said that when they arrived they saw a car stuck in rushing waters on a bridge. The woman in the passenger window was leaning out of the car, screaming for help. 

Dramatic Rescue: Officers save mentally distressed man just before burning van explodes
Officer Valli sprints into action. (Austin PD Body-Cam)


“I was like, ‘We just need to do something now or they’re going to go over, and it’s not going to end well,'” Officer Valli said.

The officers wasted no time in plotting their course of action. Officer Valli put on a life vest and tied a rope to it and two other officers held the other end tightly.

Then Valli ran straight into the flood waters, reaching the car as it continued to drift toward going over the bridge.

“Both Officer Valli and I are former lifeguards, and we had training in the military with helicopters, crashes and things like that in the water. So we were both in the same mindset about how to act within the water. And we didn’t really have time to think,” Officer Cochran said. “We just applied what we had known. We had some training in the academy as well with throwing the rope to victims, and so we used that training and entered the water. And knew how dangerous it is – even just two to three feet, the current is so strong, it can sweep you off your feet.”

Dramatic Rescue: Officers save mentally distressed man just before burning van explodes
Officer said the water was shallow but the current was extremely strong. (Austin PD Body-Cam)


Pulling the first victim from the car went smoothly – the water was low enough for her to walk alongside him, but the waters were continuing to rise.

They pulled the second and when they went back for the third woman and the dog, the entire car began to slide and the three began to be pulled under because of the intensity of the current. The other officer rushed out to the car and grabbed the remaining woman and her dog, pulling them toward shallow water. 

The intensity of the current can be seen as water rushes around them. The owner cried out when the dog pulled free and ran back toward the car, but after calling him repeatedly, the dog trots to safety.

Dramatic Rescue: Officers save mentally distressed man just before burning van explodes
The woman and her dog are pulled under by the current (Austin PD Body-Cam)


When asked about how to rescue a dog in situations like this, Officer Valli said, “We never trained for it, so we just learn as we go…You want to do the best you can. I was – hey, I’m a dog lover myself. I’d be upset. I understand like, your human life is a little bit more important, but if I can still rescue the dog, I’m still going to do my best.”


The officers breathed a sigh of relief and a laugh after the rescue was all said and done.

“I think we were placed there for a reason,” Cochran said.

Though the water was only waist-deep, officers want to remind everyone how dangerous the strength of the current is. 

“A human being that weighs 200 pounds isn’t going to stand a chance,” said Officer Cochran. “Please, it’s not worth it. Turn around, take the extra five, ten minutes because it’s not worth getting caught in your car and potentially drowning.”

Submit a Correction
Related Posts