It started when a driver lost control and hit the family’s car, sending across the median into oncoming traffic.
That driver sits in jail Friday night, facing serious charges.
Meanwhile, a good Samaritan who tried to rescue the victims from their burning car is still trying to erase the memory of the smoke he fought to get to them.
Don Rogers says he was heading towards Tampa on the Expressway when he saw the immediate aftermath of the fiery crash; smoke, burning cars, and no emergency responders in sight. He says he didn't think twice about stopping to help.
Rogers and another man went straight for the burning Hyundai. Together they were able to pry open the driver's side door and Rogers says he used his pocket knife to cut the seat belt off of the man trapped inside.
“I don’t know it’s just the right thing to do. I have a hard time driving past someone with a flat tire without stopping or wanting to help them out. It just seemed like the right thing to do,” Rogers explained.
He remembers the heat from the fire was so intense it actually melted his key fob, but he was so focused on saving the man behind the wheel, he barely noticed.
“I could feel the heat of it but I knew I just needed to get him out of there as quick as possible. If there was going to be a chance to save this guy’s life, we had to do it right now,” Rogers said.
Unfortunately, they weren't able to save any of the three people inside the car. Rogers says the man they pulled out was unconscious and, despite CPR, they were never able to revive him.
He also said the smoke was so thick, they weren't aware that a woman and a child were also inside the car when it crashed.
“There was plenty of smoke back there and we could feel the heat from it but I don’t know it happened so quick. My main focus was to get to the driver,” Rogers said. “I wish I would’ve known. Maybe we could’ve done more. I don’t know.”
Rogers said he’s spent some time recounting Thursday’s event but doesn’t regret stopping to help.
“I didn’t sleep too good last night. Just running scenarios through my head. Thinking, if we knew there was a child in the backseat. If we were able to save that child, what kind of life would it be for that child knowing both their parents had died,” Rogers said. “Wishing we could’ve done more. Wishing we would’ve known. Wishing I didn’t get stopped at the red light beforehand and I could’ve been there 45 seconds earlier and possibly could’ve seen the people in the backseat before it was all full of smoke and flames.”
Police arrested the woman they say caused the crash. Amber Perera was taken into custody two miles down the road after her car broke down.
According to the arrest affidavit, Perera had slurred speech, failed a field sobriety test, and admitted to taking prescription drugs while driving.