Tears, laughter, smiles and prayers of thanksgiving this morning for a real life hero and the man he saved.
David Guldner — pulled from the flaming wreckage of the his pickup truck last October — finally got to meet his rescuer Wednesday morning.
Seemly shy and quiet, Taj Matney of Sonora, surrounded by his wife, children and family members, was honored at ceremonies at the Jamestown office of the California Highway Patrol for his heroic actions six months ago.
It´s was around 5:30 p.m. October 13th. Matney was driving on Highway 120 east of Tulloch Road when he came upon the burning wreckage of a 1994 Dodge pick-up truck.
Trapped inside was 41 year-old Guldner. According to CHP reports, somehow Guldner allowed his truck to drift off the north edge of the highway. The truck careened down an embankment and struck three oak trees, bursting into flames.
Matney stopped, got out of his vehicle and ran past several bystanders who just stood watching from the roadway. Guldner´s leg was stuck under the dashboard of his burning truck, unable to get his seat belt unbuckled. Braving flames and thick, black smoke, Matney was finally able free the trapped and burning Guldner, pulling him out of the crushed cab just as the vehicle totally erupted on fire.
By that time, an off-duty Tuolumne County Ambulance employee and another motorist had come upon the accident scene, called for help and assisted Matney in putting out the fire burning Guldner´s clothes, carrying him to safety.
Matney then got in his truck and drove to a Sonora hospital for treatment of minor burns and cuts, then went on his way home, but his actions were not overlooked by authorities.
A meeting room at the Jamestown CHP office was filled with family, friends, medical and law enforcement personnel and reporters Wednesday to see California Highway Patrol Assistant Division Commander Mick Rotondo award Taj Matney the CHP commissioner´s commendation.
Taj seemed to play down his role in saving Guldner´s life. “I´m glad I was there to help,” Matney told Guldner.
“So am I,” returned the grateful man, as his family broke into laughter and tears. Guldner continues to recover for major burns and injuries to his legs.
“This guy is a true real life hero,” said Doris Koeppe, Guldner´s mother, wiping a tear from her cheek. She told others if it wasn´t for Matney, her son would not be here today.