Local woman says homeless man may have saved her life

Updated: Dec. 31, 2019 at 2:33 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) -A local woman is giving credit to a fast-acting homeless man for possibly saving her life, after a recent crash. As she nurses broken bones, after a fiery accident on St. Charles Ave she says the man, forever changed her life.

We see them all around us, hundreds of homeless, on the streets. To some, they're a nuisance, but Sarah Gautreaux says last month, she’s glad Joel Smith was there.

Gautreaux says two days before Thanksgiving, she was heading to pick up a turkey, when a 19-year-old college student, driving the wrong way, slammed into her, at the corner of Louisiana Ave, and St Charles, pinning her inside her car.

"I couldn't get out, and my hood was in flames, and a peace came over me, and I thought this was how it's going to end," said Gautreaux.

As the flames grew bigger, Gautreaux heard a voice.

“I was telling her to get the heck out of the car,” said Smith, who frequently panhandles on that corner...stepped into action. unable to open the damaged driver side door, he went around to the passenger side and forced his way in.

"The steering wheel was trapped on her stomach, and I had to pull her out...and pull her out, and when I got her out, the car got engulfed in flames," said Smith.

"If these people hadn't been there, God knows what would have happened," said Gautreaux.

She says Smith stayed with her until the police arrived.

“He stood there with me and told me it was okay, and he then went to his home at Rite Aid and didn’t ask for thanks or anything,” said Gautreaux, who says this incident not only changed her life, but it also changed her attitude toward the countless homeless people we see on the streets of New Orleans.

“That isn’t there only defining character, their homelessness, these people have depth, and it was obvious in his saving me,” said Gautreaux.

Smith, who formerly remodeled homes, has been homeless for 5 years.

“I’m not cool with this situation, I’m looking for work,” said Smith.

Gautreaux says Smith's presence, may have helped her survive one of the scariest moments of her life.

"I would have at least been severely burned, or killed," said Gautreaux.

Gautreaux, who now nurses a broken arm, has since returned to the corner, to bring Smith blankets, food and cash.

“I don’t know.. he was an angel around Thanksgiving time, in a way that most people wouldn’t think about an angel, as a homeless person,” said Gautreaux.

Smith says he wants no special thanks, but would someday like to find work again, and a home, and see his three kids, in South Carolina.

Smith says he is working with ‘Unity for the Homeless’ to find housing and is optimistic that it may happen soon.

As for the 19-year-old driver involved in the accident, Sarah Gautreaux says police gave her a citation, and she says she bears her no ill will.

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