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Roadshow readers salute highway heroism

By Gary Richards

Mercury News

Posted: 11/26/2008 04:33:25 PM PST

Today is not about road rage, those nasty incidents we witness far too often when drivers lose their cool, exchange stone-cold glares, make rude gestures or use their vehicles as weapons.

Every week, a steady stream of e-mails and calls rolls into Roadshow from drivers who simply want to say thanks to another motorist who has performed a good deed and come to their aid, sometimes heroically and at a risk to themselves.

They are many, believes Bruce Raye, a former San Jose traffic cop.

"There is no doubt in my mind that there are way more Roadshow heroes out there than road-ragers," he said. "Those heroes kept me going during my 10 years in the traffic unit. I observed countless acts of kindness and they occurred on a daily basis."

Often, the heroes are unknown. They do their good deed and simply motor off. Sometimes, we get lucky and find out their names.

Help in an instant

Two months ago, Karen Chiaramonte of San Jose was headed to work near Capitol and Cropley avenues in San Jose when a young disabled woman started into the crosswalk. The woman was halfway across the intersection when she began to hurry, losing her balance and falling in the middle of the street with hardly any time left on the crosswalk light.

The woman tried grabbing her belongings but couldn't get up. The light turned green and no one was coming to her aid. Chiaramonte watched in horror, then

swung into action, turning on her hazard lights, jumping out of her car and running into the street. Another woman drove into a nearby gas station, got out of her car and also ran into the intersection. Together they got the woman out of harm's way.The young woman said she tried to hurry up "because most drivers don't wait for her to get across the street and will drive right past her without regard for her safety," said Chiaramonte, a 43-year-old teacher at Morrill Middle School. "How is it possible that we have become so cold and callous that we have no regard for the safety of another human being who obviously works a lot harder to get across the street than any of us will ever have to? I'm grateful that I was able to help this young woman and want to thank the other woman who ran to help."

Riding to the rescue

Scott Serrano was riding his motorcycle on Highway 9 above Saratoga on Labor Day weekend with a buddy, Robyn Bytheway, when they rounded a curve.

Serrano, riding behind her, suddenly saw Bytheway's taillight go over the edge of the road and fly into a ravine as she lost control on a curve. He dumped his bike and ran a couple of hundred feet down to her, fearing that no one on the road above would stop and call for help as he held Bytheway, who was drifting in and out of consciousness.

Within minutes, a motorist saw where Serrano had left his bike and stopped to investigate. The unknown man saw the pair down below and called 911. In another minute a passing nurse named Sunny stopped and climbed down into the ravine to help tend to the injured woman, who survived with minor injuries.

They stabilized Bytheway and stayed with her for over an hour until she could be rescued. She had some bleeding on her brain and a sprained knee and elbow, and she is currently in physical therapy but back at work.

Her father, Glenn, is a former San Jose policeman. "In over 28 years with the police, I met many good Samaritans at the various incidents," he said. "But up until now I never experienced them in such a personal way. I am deeply grateful for people like (them). I have been by the crash site where she went over the cliff and I know she is still with us because of the safety gear she was wearing, a lot of luck, and these good Samaritans."

A fire inside

CHP officer Todd Thibodeau can never forget the graveyard-shift call a few years back. A drunk racing at 80 mph lost control, his car careening off a freeway and catching fire. The man was trapped inside, and two women who saw the crash heard his screams.

"They got him out of the car right as we got there," Thibodeau said. "In all the commotion, they drove away before we could thank them and get their identification."

Mechanic's moment

It was the Friday before Labor Day when Trudi Kole's car stalled in the middle of Almaden Expressway.

"I'm desperately trying to get ahold of a tow truck. I'm buckled in, watching my rear, hoping drivers see my flashing lights," she said. "To my left a truck pulls onto the bumpy median. A young man comes out and asked if I need help and then two more men appear and push me into Camden Avenue. I couldn't thank them enough then."

One good Samaritan reappeared, giving Kole his business card from Autobahn Los Gatos.

"I call them, explain what happened and this man named Gary tells me to bring my car over; he has time to look at it," Kole said. "After I arrived he informs me he already has ordered the part I need, a crankshaft reference sensor, and it should get here any minute. By 1 o'clock I was driving home. What great people."

Fishing trip saved

Dave Dittman of San Jose was headed west on Interstate 580 on Oct. 25, pulling his boat for a fishing trip when a woman in a nearby car pulled alongside and began frantically waving at him. "The tire's coming off of your boat!" she yelled.

Dittman pulled off at the next exit and examined his tire. The wheel rim had cracked, and the inner rim was separating from the outer rim.

"If that road angel hadn't told me, there was no way we would have made it over the Sunol Grade," Dittman said. "She most definitely saved an accident, major gridlock and quite possibly the lives of my fishin' buddy and myself."

Sharing a kindness

We know this good guy only as Phil, but he's someone Catherine Nielsen will never forget.Two weeks ago, the 47-year-old Campbell woman was driving with her mother-in-law to Fairfield on Interstate 680 when she heard an awful noise coming from the rear of her van. A tire in back was flat, so she got out the jack and started to replace the tire.

That's when Phil pulled up to lend a hand. He removed the flat and put on the spare, only to realize that it too was flat. He drove to a gas station, got the spare inflated, came back and put it on the car. In return, he got a huge hug.

"I offered him cash, but he refused any money," Nielsen said.

The story gets better. She took her van to a nearby Wheel Works in San Ramon, where Phil had first gone. The place was packed, and every stall occupied with other vehicles being serviced. The tire repairman, John Skillman, remembered the story of the two women stranded on the highway and said, "Come with me." He walked out to the parking lot and immediately installed a new tire — at no charge. His only request: Return the act of kindness to someone else.

"I was absolutely stoked," Nielsen said. "Two complete strangers doing random acts of kindness. How cool is that?"

Very cool.

You have stories of good deeds of other motorists? Contact Gary Richards at mrroadshow@mercurynews.com or (408) 920-5335.

Two flat tires - the womans an eejit : )

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It's sad isn't it that people doing good turns for one another is actually newsworthy.

I guess it could be read as people clinging to the hope that there is at least a shred of humaneness left in the human world and celebrating any clue that it might be so.

Actually though, I don't find it all that rare, although the examples cited are particularly dramatic and make for good stories, which is what newspapers are in business to sell. But I find that day to day, most of the people I deal with are basically decent as long as it doesn't cost them too much in time and effort. Consideration cuts both ways.


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