A homeless man is being credited for helping bring two children to safety after their mother was killed in an explosion at a Florida gas station Wednesday afternoon.
While Jared Pierson and his friend panhandled at a Publix in Palm Harbor — north of St. Petersburg — he heard a crash, initially thinking it was only a fender bender, the Tampa Bay Times reported.
But when he saw flames at the Circle K gas station across the street, he ran to the scene and called 911. Once there, he noticed a 14-year-old girl and an 11-year-old boy trying to put out the fire with extinguishers while a woman pulled them away from the fire, the newspaper reported.
Pierson asked if anyone was in the car, and the children said their mom was trapped. But he did not see anyone, according to the Times. If he had, he said he would have tried to save her.
Pierson took the two kids across the street to safety away from the fire, according to the Times.
« Pretty much the whole town was outside and I tried to get everybody to get away from the McDonald’s and the gas station and to go across the street, » Pierson told the newspaper.
He called the incident « the most horrible thing I’ve ever seen before Christmas in my entire adult life. »
He said he planned to attend a scheduled prayer service on Thursday in honor of the woman, who has been identified as Shoi Caballes.
The explosion occurred as Caballes was pumping gas and a 66-year-old woman backed her car into a pump, knocking it over onto the victim. She became trapped as the exposed fuel caught on fire.
« Upon arrival, firefighters found a gas pump and a vehicle engulfed in flames. The firefighters immediately extinguished the fire, » East Lake Fire Rescue wrote in a Facebook post. « Our hearts are heavy as we share that one adult did not survive this incident. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victim’s family. »
The State Fire Marshal’s Office and Florida Highway Patrol are investigating the incident. Newsweek reached out to the marshal’s office on Saturday.
A GoFundMe created for the family has raised more than $128,000 as of Saturday afternoon.
« It is still very easy for me to say today, there will not be a player or family I loved and admired more [than] the Caballes family, » the GoFundMe reads. « This fundraiser is being set up because tragedy has struck the Caballes family. »
In a statement to Spectrum news, the family wrote: « For everyone reaching out, my family and I thank you for your kind words and loving messages. »
Those who knew Caballes offered their memories of her during the Thursday night memorial.
« So meticulous, » Chase Arnold, a family friend, said, local news station WVTV reported. « She never missed a birthday, never missed anything, at every event, just one of the kindest, most caring souls. »
Another family friend Panteli Skaroulis called her « the best and one-of-a-kind, » the news station reported.
« She would do all the little things, » Skaroulis said.