A year ago, Rajinder Singh and Angelica Mercado were complete strangers. 34 year old Singh is from Queens, New York. Mercado, 25, is from North Bergen, New Jersey. But their lives intersected on November 20, 2008 on the New Jersey Turnpike. Singh was driving a gasoline tanker truck that rolled over on the turnpike near Route 3 in East Rutherford and caught on fire. While Singh was able to hoist himself out of the cab, witnesses say he stood on the road, completely engulfed in flames.
"That was a very dangerous situation," said Singh, who spoke for the first time to News 4 New York. "So many people there but nobody came."
Except for Mercado and a few others. The nursing student took off her new cream colored parka to smother the flames on Singh's clothes. She also put Singh in her car and drove him to the hospital, before ambulances had even arrived.
Dr. Hani Mansour, a doctor at the Burn Center at St. Barnabas Medical Center says that was probably the first major factor in saving his life. "It certainly helped him get quick care and to prevent any further complications."
Mercado was honored for her efforts on Thursday night by St. Barnabas, nearly one year after her heroic actions. She received the Civilian Award and was reunited with the man she helped to save.
"I did what I thought was the right thing to do," said Mercado. "I'm not sure if I was meant to be there but it did work out, my being there."
Singh suffered smoke inhalation and second and third degree burns to over forty percent of his body. He has had ten surgeries so far including skin grafts but he is scheduled for more surgeries. Still, Singh feels lucky, that Mercado was driving behind him that fateful day.
"She's my hero. She saved my life. If not for her, I'm not alive."