SAN JOSE -- A San Jose State University football linebacker is hospitalized with second-degree burns after charging through a combusting living room to escape a two-alarm blaze that broke out as he slept late Wednesday, according to fire and college officials. Jared Leaf, a Martinez native who joined SJSU after a stint playing for the University of Hawaii, was heavily sedated at the hospital burn ward, where he was visited by head football coach Ron Caragher Thursday evening.
"With something so tragic as a fire, you're just left scratching your head," Caragher said.
He said that Leaf's injuries were limited to his skin, with no damage to muscles or bones.
"I don't know how long he'll be (in the hospital), but I'd imagine it'll be a while," Caragher said.
However, he said it is "not a matter of if, but when" Leaf will return to the football field.
"He's a very resilient young man," he said of the 6-foot-2, 238-pound communications studies major. "I'm not going to rule out that he could come back this year. It comes down to his body healing."
The 11:30 p.m. fire broke out on the third floor of an apartment complex at 467 8th St., one block from the school, where Leaf lives with junior quarterback Joe Gray and senior defensive end Sean Bacon, neither of whom were home at the time of the fire.
Another roommate was home when the blaze ignited, said San Jose fire Capt. Fernando Munoz, apparently while Leaf was sleeping in his room at the rear of the unit.
That roommate lit a candle and placed the match on a couch while talking on the phone with his sister, Munoz said. The roommate then walked outside and continued chatting near the third-story railing.
After about 10 minutes, the roommate noticed smoke pouring out of the apartment's front door, Munoz said.
The roommate called Leaf and told him to get out, and the football player rushed through the living room and out the front door, receiving second-degree burns in the process, Munoz said.
"The fire was going pretty good when he (came) through," Munoz said.
The Spartan Daily university newspaper reported that witnesses saw Leaf come barreling through the flaming entryway, screaming at people not to touch him, and that he suffered burns over 20 percent of his body.
Neighbor Aaron Yu said he was studying when first he noticed a weird smell, then heard his neighbor Clarence Chima start screaming for someone to call 911 and everyone to get out of their homes. The entire complex was evacuated, Munoz said.
Firefighters believe the match landing on a couch likely sparked the blaze.
The unit was a total loss and two apartments underneath it sustained water damage, Munoz said.