SACRAMENTO, Calif. Pinned beneath the tires of a big rig, Steven Felldin did not die alone.
A stranger was there to hold his hand, to comfort the suffering 26-year-old and assure him that help was on the way. And that stranger was there to hear him gasp a final message of love:
"Tell my wife I love her."
On Thursday, that stranger -- a man initially known only as Brian -- delivered the message to Felldin's 26-year-old widow, Leilani.
"I'm so glad you were able to find us," she said, embracing Brian.
"I tried my best," he choked out between sobs. "I'm so sorry. I tried."
Surrounded by Felldin's grieving family in their North Highlands home, Brian Hunter, a 42-year-old construction worker from Sacramento, recounted what he could of the 26-year-old man's final moments.
Late Saturday afternoon, Felldin was driving north in the fast lane of Highway 99 just south of the westbound U.S. 50 connector when, for unknown reasons, he swerved across four lanes of traffic and went under the rear axle of a big rig's trailer, according to the California Highway Patrol.
The big rig moved to the shoulder, dragging Felldin's Honda Prelude with it.
Hunter was the passenger in a friend's car when they came upon the scene, which he described as "horrific." He told the driver to pull over and joined the passers-by who had stopped to help.
As he approached the Prelude, he saw Felldin's outstretched hand protruding from the mangled wreckage. He grabbed it, noticed the wedding band and told the man whose face he couldn't see to hold on.
Hunter estimated that he sat with Felldin about 10 minutes, as paramedics arrived and called for backup. He stepped back, he said, when a paramedic took Felldin's hand as others put an IV in his arm and began trying to free him from under the tires.
The accident occurred at 5:10 p.m., according to the CHP. Fire department workers first arrived on scene at 5:16 p.m., with the first ambulance arriving three minutes later, officials said.
Felldin was extricated at 5:34 p.m., and six minutes later he arrived at UC Davis Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.
Hunter told the family that Felldin had been strong, gripping his hand despite his failing breath.
Felldin had been brave, Hunter said, talking of his love rather than his fear. And he assured the family of the emergency workers' efforts.
"The firemen, they don't pay them enough," Hunter said. "They're courageous. They were trying to comfort him."
Felldin's family sat in rapt attention as Hunter recounted the nightmarish scene, holding hands and dabbing away tears. They peppered Hunter with questions, eager to fill in missing details.
They filled in details for Hunter as well, introducing him to the man with whom he shared only a few minutes, but now shares a bond. They showed him pictures and told him about the pharmacy technician's compassion, love for cooking and photography hobby.
Despite their own grief, the family expressed concern for Hunter's well-being.
"This must have been so hard for you," Leilani said quietly, putting her hand on his knee.
But Hunter, who took photos of Felldin home with him, said he is trying to make it a positive experience, one that has reminded him of the sanctity of life.
"I'm living for him, too," he said of Felldin. "I'll take a breath for him every day. ... He's a part of me now."