When Jose Antonio Rodriguez lifted a Ford Focus off a Florida Highway Patrol trooper that October morning, the 1-ton vehicle felt to him like it weighed 2 pounds.
Rodriguez was driving north on Interstate 95 with his wife and stepson on Oct. 1 when he saw the car strike Trooper Andy Ong at a spot near the Hypoluxo Road exit in Lantana. A crowd had formed along the shoulder of the highway, but nobody was acting.
“I ran and said, ‘I’m the only one who can lift the car up.’ I don’t know how I knew,” said Rodriguez, 44, a metal artist who lives in the Boca Raton area.
Rodriguez said that when he returned to his car, his hands were bloody and he felt drained. More importantly, he did not know if the man who was previously pinned under the car was going to make it.
Two months later, Rodriguez was honored Thursday morning at the Palm Beach County Police Benevolence Association Hall for his role in saving Ong’s life — and Ong himself was there to thank him.
Ong, 51, is still recovering, having left Delray Medical Center on Nov. 10. He is struggling to speak because most of his injuries were facial, said Sgt. Mark Wysocky, FHP spokesman. But he sat in the audience in street clothes and rose to stand with Rodriguez as he was honored.
On the morning of the crash, Ong — a trooper for more than 12 years — was patrolling Interstate 95 near Hypoluxo Road. He had been standing on a shoulder of the highway near the back of his patrol car, clocking the speed of passing cars, when the driver of a Honda Civic changed lanes and hit the Ford Focus, FHP has said. The Ford then crashed into both Ong and his car.
The drivers of the Ford and the Honda both sustained minor injuries. No charges have been filed in the crash as of Thursday, Wysocky said Thursday.
Ong’s wife, Lisa Santana-Ong, set up a GoFundMe page online to raise money to help pay for the trooper’s medical expenses. As of Thursday afternoon, the page had raised $8,245 of its $75,000 goal and had donations from 111 people.
Rodriguez, who said he grew up in the West Palm Beach area, said that prior to Thursday’s event, he and Ong had tried several times to meet with each other but could not get their schedules to match, given Ong’s frequent hospital visits.
“It was all so surreal. … It still is,” Rodriguez said, adding, “I had his life in my hands.”
Jose Antonio Rodriguez talks about the heroism award he received for helping injured FHP Trooper Andy Ong at video.PalmBeachPost.com