Wednesday, March 18, 2009

burned man critical

By Guy McCarthy

COLTON - A man engulfed in flames when a neighbor pulled him from a burning trailer last week in San Jacinto is scheduled to undergo surgery today in Colton.

Tom Edwin Hieber, 61, was in critical condition at Arrowhead Regional Medical Center, his daughter said.

"Say a prayer for him," Lori Linden, 43, of Hemet, said of her father. "The second surgery is for his back, upper torso, neck and head. He has second- and third-degree burns over 40 percent of his body. His lungs are burned too."

Linden called Watershed News to express gratitude to all the people who have helped keep her father alive in the past few days.

"I got there right after the fire and hugged the man who went in to save him," Linden said. "The doctors at Arrowhead tell me they saved his life again at the hospital in Moreno Valley.

"They said they had to do advanced medical maneuvers," Linden said. "They intubated him, to get tubes into his lungs before they swelled too much. Then they induced coma and airlifted him to Arrowhead Regional. I've been with him the past four days.

"They're treating him like a president at the hospital in Colton," Linden said. "Even the firefighters were in love with him. They said he was cracking jokes, even though he had been on fire."

Neighbors had publicly identified Hieber only as "Tom" since the fire, which was reported at 6:11 p.m. Friday at the Diamond Valley RV Park in the 300 block of North State Street.

Hieber has worked in construction and security for about 10 years in the San Jacinto area and he was getting ready to retire, his daughter said.

"He didn't have insurance on the trailer," Linden said. "Somebody in the park has already donated another trailer. But he's to be in the hospital for a long time recovering. When he gets out I want him to come live with me."

Linden said she is especially grateful to Bob Ashburn, a 51-year-old resident of the RV park who went into the burning trailer Friday and came out with Hieber still in flames.

"He did it not even knowing for sure if anybody was in there," Linden said. "He is my angel, for saving my dad."

Jerry Castorena, 55, the maintenance manager for Diamond Valley RV Park, his wife Tanya, and Ashburn said this morning their thoughts are with Hieber.

"We're hoping the best for him and his family right now," Castorena said. "This has got to be difficult for them."


Tom Hieber and daughter Lori Linden in Beaumont, November 2005.
Photos courtesy of the Hieber family.

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