Man pulls victims from cars after deadly crash


John Johannessen pulled two men from their vehicles shortly before the cars burst into flames after a deadly head on collision Tuesday last week on Pacific Coast Highway.

By Homaira Shifa / Special to The Malibu Times

General contractor John Johannessen was driving to a Chamber of Commerce meeting at Pepperdine University on Tuesday last week when he saw two cars collide violently ahead of him. There were three cars ahead of him, but he was still able to witness it all.

“A car came through the center divider and then all you saw were pieces of car parts flying through the air and a big cloud of smoke,” Johannessen said.

Johannessen said he was surprised to see the cars in front of him turn around and leave the scene. He quickly took action and got out of his car to rush to the aid of the trapped victims.

“Both of the cars were smashed, totaled,” Johannessen said. “But none of the windows were broken on either car.”

In one of the cars he saw a foot hitting the driver’s side of the window and a man yelling “get me out of here,” Johannessen said.

Johannessen said he went to help get the man out, but the doors were jammed. He forcefully pulled on the upper frame of the door, but it didn’t open.

“At this point I looked around to see if anyone was coming to help me, but didn’t see anyone,” Johannessen said. “I realized I had to do it on my own.”

He pulled on the door with a lot of force once again and broke the doorframe. The glass shattered and the victims’ feet popped out of the window. He pulled him out to safety as heavy smoke was coming out of the car.

“The man was yelling ‘Oh my back, get me out of here,’” Johannessen said.

Johannesen then rushed to the aid of the other trapped victim as a woman came over to help the man he had rescued.

Three to four people were already trying to help get the man out of the car. The door was jammed and fire was building up on the car, Johannessen said.

A passerby brought a fire extinguisher to the scene and they temporarily put the fire out. They broke the front window using the fire extinguisher and pulled the man out.

“He had no pulse,” Johannessen said. “The car was fully engulfed in flames.”

They did mouth-to-mouth on the victim, who was later identified as 25-year-old Eriber Lopez of Los Angeles, who was pronounced dead after being airlifted to UCLA Medical Center in Santa Monica.

Johannessen said they tried two times to put the fire out until they ran out of fire extinguisher.

He said in total about a dozen people stopped to help and everyone needs to be recognized.

“I don’t want it to look like it was just me,” Johannessen said. “My hats off to everyone who jumped there and tried so hard. They knew the clock was ticking. All the ones there deserve a pat on the back and a thank you from the city.”

Johannessen said he’s never done anything like this before, but that he couldn’t have done it by himself.

“Some people have a natural instinct to help and jump at the scene,” Johannessen said. “There were enough people there to do what had to be done.”

At that point the cops and ambulance showed up and Johannessen left the scene.

A few days after the accident, Johannessen noticed holes on the pair of jeans he was wearing the day of the accident—the result of battery acid that sprayed all over the cars after the crash. His clothes had brushed up against the acid during the rescue.

The accident caused major backups on PCH for several hours.

Johannessen is from Westlake Village and on the board of directors for the Malibu Chamber of Commerce.