Kevin Patterson was driving to work just before 4 a.m. Sunday when he saw a Chevrolet Malibu rear-end a black Mustang in the northbound lanes of the 15 Freeway between Oak Hill Road and Highway 395, San Bernardino County fire officials said.
Only moments before, the Mustang had crashed into the back of a Cadillac Escalade, and the two vehicles were stopped on the left side of the roadway, according to California Highway Patrol and county coroner's reports.
"When (Patterson) saw the collision, he pulled over and ran across the lanes of traffic to help," said firefighter Jason Williams, who was at the scene of the early morning crash.
As Patterson stood with the Malibu's male driver and female passenger, he could hear a vehicle approaching the crash site, he told authorities. With only moments to spare, Patterson pushed the woman into the center divider and then heaved the 300-pound driver of the Malibu over the railing, saving the Santa Ana residents just before a red pickup smashed into the rear of the Malibu, pushing the disabled vehicle into the Mustang.
The impact sent Patterson to the ground with an injured ankle, Williams said.
Paramedics and CHP officers soon discovered the 30-year-old woman driving the Mustang had been killed, though it wasn't clear if the initial impact or one of the subsequent crashes led to her death.
She was pronounced dead at the scene. Her identity had not been released, pending notification of family.
Patterson refused to be treated by paramedics, but he was later treated at a High Desert hospital for a minor injury to his ankle, Williams said.
The woman Patterson pushed to safety was not injured, though her friend did suffer a broken leg, authorities said.
The drivers of the Escalade and the pickup reportedly were uninjured.
"It's always a tragedy when someone loses their life," said Williams, "but if (Patterson) hadn't done what he did, this really could've turned out a lot worse than what it was."