Logan Sutherland’s soldier instincts kicked in when he came across a Healdsburg man stuck in a burning Ford Explorer early New Year’s Day.
Before his girlfriend could bring their car to a full stop, Sutherland jumped out and ran toward the flames. The Army soldier, currently serving in the Army Reserve, pulled driver Dean Giorgi out of the crumpled vehicle.
“You could definitely feel the heat from the engine coming up. We were trying to get him out quick. The front kept getting hotter and hotter,” said Sutherland, 22, of Santa Rosa.
Giorgi, 45, was later arrested on suspicion of drunken driving, one of more than 150 people arrested in Sonoma County over the past three weeks during a special enforcement program targeting impaired drivers.
CHP Officer Jon Sloat said Giorgi failed to stop at a stop sign on Eastside Road near Old Redwood Highway and crashed into a concrete wall around 1 a.m. Thursday. He was in and out of consciousness when Sutherland arrived.
“He didn’t know what was going on,” Sutherland said.
Sutherland and another passer-by used a skateboard to shatter a back window, then reached into the SUV and unlocked the driver’s door, unbuckled Giorgi’s seatbelt and pulled him out of the Explorer before the fire spread from the engine to the passenger compartment.
Within minutes, the Explorer was completely engulfed in flames.
“It was so lucky that we came by for him at the time that we did,” said Sutherland’s sister, Molly, who was heading home with her brother and his girlfriend on New Year’s Eve when they encountered the wreck.
CHP Officer David Thomas agreed. He said Giorgi would have died had Sutherland not pulled him out of the driver’s seat and away from the car.
“I’m pretty confident he would have perished,” Thomas said, adding that the SUV was completely consumed in flames by the time emergency responders arrived.
Giorgi, who had previous convictions and license suspensions for drunken driving, was treated for minor injuries at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, Thomas said.
While Giorgi was lucky this time around, that might not be the case in the future, Logan Sutherland said.
“I hope this was a wake-up call for him,” Sutherland said. “He may not be as lucky to have someone pull him out of a burning car (next time). That could be his last action on earth.”
Drunken-driving arrests in Sonoma County surged by more than 60 percent over the holiday season, authorities said Friday. In a 21-day enforcement period ending Friday, officers from the county’s 13 law enforcement agencies arrested 152 people suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, up from 94 during the same period the previous year, Santa Rosa Police Sgt. Mike Numainville said.
There were no alcohol-related deaths this holiday season despite 11 drunken-driving crashes, Numainville said. Last year’s crash figures were not provided.
The arrests came as part of a countywide crackdown on drunken-driving known as the “Avoid the 13” program. It is paid for by a grant from the California Office of Traffic Safety through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Also on New Year’s Day, CHP officers arrested another suspected drunken driver who was blocking traffic and was unconscious in her car, Sloat said.