U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Officer Donald Thompson (Los Angeles Police Department, CA)

Public Safety Officer Medal of Valor

Officer Donald Thompson is honored for going above and beyond the call of duty to rescue an unconscious accident victim from a burning car, saving the man's life.

On December 25, 2013, Officer Thompson was driving southbound on the 405 freeway to start his shift, when he saw a car in the northbound lane about one-half mile away collide with the sound barrier wall on the east side of the freeway and then veer across all lanes of traffic and hit the concrete center divider. The rear of the vehicle caught fire as soon as it collided with the divider, but the car continued northbound for another 350 feet before coming to a rest about 150 feet in front of Officer Thompson.

The fire spread quickly. Knowing there was very little time to spare, Officer Thompson pulled his car up to the center divider, got out and jumped two concrete freeway dividers, and rushed to the burning car. Its entire rear portion was engulfed in flames and the fire was quickly moving toward the driver's compartment. Without regard for his own safety, Officer Thompson rushed forward, forcing open the badly damaged front door and making several attempts to release the unconscious man from his seatbelt. With the flames advancing, Officer Thompson finally freed the driver and, bearing the full weight of the man's 200 pounds, pulled him out of the car.

Several witnesses rushed to assist Officer Thompson. Two of them reached over the concrete barrier and grabbed the unconscious driver from Officer Thompson, who was suffering from the effects of the smoke and intense heat. A third helped Officer Thompson over the barrier seconds before the car became engulfed in flames.

The driver received treatment for moderate injuries. Officer Thompson was treated for first-degree burns to his arms and face and second-degree burns to his right hand. He continued his shift after he was released from urgent care.

Date Published: September 8, 2020