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Brothers rescue woman, daughter after fiery Edens Expy. crash

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Updated: May 24, 2013 6:41AM

Brothers Dan and Ken Hechtman were in a Mercedes listening to the calming voice of Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli when all hell broke loose in front of them on the Edens Expy. on Sunday night.

A semitruck began veering from the center lane, striking two cars before the cab of the truck hit the median, a jolt that sent it into the air and caused two fiery explosions.

“My brother and I both jumped out of the car and ran toward the burning truck,” said Ken Hechtman, 60, who sprinted to the back of the truck to stop traffic.

A 150-foot-long trail of burning gasoline lighted up the night after the truck’s fuel tank ruptured.

“All of a sudden, I heard these female voices screaming ‘I’m on fire! I’m on fire,’ ” he said.

Gloria Garcia, 39, and her 10-year-old daughter, Gianna Hernandez, lay on the concrete next to a Ford Taurus that was lodged beneath the truck.

Garcia’s hair, jacket and hands were in flames, and her daughter was screaming. Her coat was on fire.

“The heat was unbelievable, I think I got tanned on my face,” said Ken Hechtman, who tried to tamp out the flames. He carried the girl to the grass beside the highway. Garcia followed.

“We almost got hit by a car,” he said. “Tires were exploding off of the truck and everything was burning, and people were still trying to drive around the wreck. I was furious.”

Meanwhile, his brother, Dan, 55, was trying to remove the driver from the truck, which was on fire.

“The smoke was so intense, it was almost like pudding, where you could grab it and make a ball out of it, it was that thick,” Ken Hechtman said. “But Daniel was able to help the driver to the side of the road. The guy was shaking and convulsing.”

Two other women left their nearby vehicles and began talking to the burn victims to keep them calm.

About 10 minutes passed before ambulances arrived. The truck driver and his wife, who escaped from the cab without aid, were taken to Glenbrook Hospital with minor injuries.

Garcia and her daughter were taken to Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood. Garcia’s sister, Maria Garcia, 27, said she had third-degree burns on her arms and second-degree burns on her face. “She’s on a breathing tube and sedated, doctors aren’t sure how bad her throat was injured,” Maria Garcia said Monday night. She said her sister was headed home to North Chicago after visiting relatives in Chicago with her daughter, who suffered third-degree burns on her hands and second-degree burns on her forehead. She was awake, talking and moving around Monday afternoon. Maria Garcia said doctors expect the mother and daughter to recover.

“I really want to thank those brothers,” Maria Garcia said as she choked up.

The brothers, co-owners of Ken’s Diner in Skokie, were headed home to Buffalo Grove after a 14-hour workday when they encountered the accident near Tower Road in Northbrook.

In hindsight, running toward explosions and an intense inferno didn’t seem like the smartest move, but Ken Hechtman said, “Stupid doesn’t start with an ‘H.’ It’s not about being a hero.”

“When I got down to it and finally laid down in bed and tried to sleep, the thought that came to me was: ‘If ever the people that I would give my life for — my son, my daughter, my wife — were in this situation, that what I did comes back to kiss me,’ ” he said.

The truck driver, who’s from Iowa, was ticketed for improper lane usage by the Illinois State Police.

“It looked like the end of the world,” said State Trooper Sean Stadler, who confirmed the Hechtman brothers’ role in the rescue. “There were little fires everywhere.”

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