The Hechtman brothers had closed up their Skokie restaurant Sunday night and were driving home when the semi-truck in front of them swerved on the Edens Expressway near Tower Road, struck another car and burst into flames.
Without thinking, Ken Hechtman stopped his car and the two brothers ran toward opposite ends of the truck. With each step, they could feel intense, searing heat and see the dark smoke in the air turn thicker. They also heard the truck explode twice, Ken Hechtman said in an interview today.
Daniel Hechtman, 54, ran toward the front of the semi and helped pull a passenger out of the fiery compartment. He carried the passenger’s limp body to the side of the road. The man started shaking, as if he was having spasms, Daniel Hechtman said.
Meanwhile, the elder Hechtman ran toward the back of the truck, intending to stop traffic. Instead, he heard voices calling for help underneath the truck.
"I heard the screaming and there was nothing else in my mind (but) to run toward the voices,” said Ken Hechtman, 60. “There was no time to think. It’s adrenaline. It’s all adrenaline.”
As he walked toward the truck, he saw a car underneath with a woman and young girl lying next to the vehicle. The woman’s hair was on fire and flames covered the back of the girl’s jacket, Ken Hechtman said.
Somehow, he managed to grab the two from underneath and put out the flames, he said. He carried the little girl across the expressway as cars whizzed by.
“It’s one thing to see people standing and watching,” said Ken Hechtman as he recalled the scene. “It’s another to have these senseless people trying to drive around this flaming truck. The truck could have exploded.”
Illinois State Police said the accident happened around 9:10 p.m., when a truck traveling northbound near Northbrook struck a car as the truck merged from the right lane into a center lane. The truck driver then veered sharply to the right, striking a second car before losing control and smashing into a wall on the left shoulder of the highway, police said.
Two witnesses pulled the victims from the burning vehicle, State Police District Chicago spokeswoman Trooper Elizabeth Nanai confirmed.
Four people were hurt, one critically, according to the Illinois State Police. One of the truck's gas tanks caught fire after the crash.
One person sustained third-degree burns and is in critical condition at Loyola University Medical Center, police said. Another motorist was taken to Loyola and two were transported to Evanston Hospital, all three with minor injuries.
Among those injured, a girl, age 10, and a woman, age 39, suffered life-threatening injuries, Nanai said. A man, age 49, and a woman, also 49, suffered non-life-threatening injuries, Nanai said.
Police have cited the truck driver for improper lane usage, lack of insurance and failure to display a medical card and log book.
The Hechtman brothers, both of Buffalo Grove, co-own Ken’s Diner in northwest suburban Skokie. They thought they’d be home by 9:40 p.m., but arrived at their houses after 1 a.m.
Ken Hechtman said he doesn’t consider himself a hero. Everything just happened so fast, he said.
“Everyone keeps talking about ‘Hero, hero, hero,’” he said. “Now that I think about it, it was stupid. Who runs toward a flaming truck that’s exploding?”
Illinois State Police are still investigating the crash.
Tribune reporters Adam Sege and Rosemary Sobol contributedCopyright © 2015, CT Now