Austin Raishbrook is used to seeing violence, human drama and unmistakable danger play out before his eyes.
But usually, the Los Angeles-based photojournalist — whose legend partially inspired the ruthless news junkie played by Jake Gyllenhaal in the movie “Nightcrawler” — is on the safe side of a camera watching the news unfold.
That changed Saturday night, when Raishbrook, the owner of RMG News, started filming a dark-colored SUV that had stalled in the fast lane of the 110 Freeway, according to CW-affiliate KTLA.
Raishbrook, who is known for using daredevilry and relentlessness to get a front seat to breaking news, followed his own dogged protocol and started filming. His camera captured the SUV being sideswiped by two cars and then, he told KTLA, he heard an explosive sound.
It was the result of a car smashing into the SUV from behind, unleashing a fireball that engulfed the SUV. Instead of filming the grisly aftermath as Gyllenhaal’s sociopathic character, Louis Bloom, would have done, Raishbrook took action to save the victim.
“I could actually see the driver slumped over the steering wheel. . . . I was met with heavy flames and smoke,” he told KTLA. “I reached in and pulled him through, but I couldn’t do it.”
Instead of leaving the driver to die in the flames, Raishbrook decided to try to save him once more.
“I manage to wrestle his waist out of the lower belt and pull him free,” he added. “It was quite an experience.”
Raishbrook told CBS affiliate KCAL that he switched from journalist to rescuer because he knew that time was running out and the trapped driver “didn’t have a chance.”
“He probably had about 10 seconds at that point before he would have died of smoke inhalation or burns,” Raishbrook said.
The dramatic rescue, which involved dragging the unconscious driver away from the burning wreck, was captured by another videographer at the scene, KCAL reported.
“Stringers talk of accidents the way most people talk of rare baseball cards, a jaded way of speaking that some say puts them on ethically dubious terrain,” the Los Angeles Times reported in a 2014 article about Raishbrook and other “ambulance chasers” pursuing tragedy in big cities like Los Angeles. “But they and their defenders say that such criticism misses the point.”
Raishbrook is no different, having seen plenty of harrowing drama and tragedy firsthand, but he told KCAL that being part of a life-or-death incident is something he’ll never forget.
“I’ve probably watched [the video] about 30 times,” Raishbrook said. “Just reliving that moment. It still feels surreal to me. That two-minute experience for me is going to last the rest of my life.”
KTLA reported that the rescued driver was taken to a local hospital in critical condition but is now talking and expected to be released from the hospital this week.