LAKEWOOD RANCH -- The month of May will certainly be memorable for the Rodriguez family of Bradenton, who became heroes when they least expected it. In the course of one weekend, they just happened to be in two places where people's lives were in danger -- and they came to their rescue.
Family members call it doing what comes naturally.
Late Saturday afternoon May 3, 80-year-old Jean Strike was sitting in the back of a bus with a friend from her Blake Hospital Senior Center group, returning from a day trip to a Fort Myers dinner theater. No one realized the back tire of the bus was on fire.
As the bus pulled off Interstate 75 to University Parkway at a stoplight, a young couple with children in a car behind them yelled and honked for it to stop. They caught the attention of the bus driver who pulled over just before the bus became engulfed in smoke.
That's when the Rodriguez family became their "angels," as Strike recalls.
"The family helped us off the bus, and they saw I was unsteady on my feet, so they let me sit in their van with the air conditioner running for hours until a replacement bus came to return us home," said Strike, who has leukemia and congestive heart failure. "Most of us are in our 80s, and we would have blown up if they hadn't stopped to help us out."
Brandie Rodriguez and her husband, Miguel, were returning from a day of family fun at a trampoline park with their eldest son, Alberto Santiago, their adopted 5-year-old daughter, Ella, and a niece and nephew when they saw the distressed bus and immediately pulled over. While her husband helped the bus driver extinguish the fire, her son helped all the women off the bus and made sure they were safe.
Brandie Rodriguez said her son, who graduates from Bayshore High School this weekend, wants to be a firefighter or emergency medical technician because he was so moved by the experience. She called it a natural part of being a good human being.
"I feel proud that we've done something good for somebody. Nowadays, people turn a blind eye, but we taught our children that when you see someone in need of help, it's your responsibility to help and not look the other way," she said. "I would have worried about those people all night if we hadn't stopped to help them."
The Rodriguez family operates the Countryside Group Home home for adults with special needs in Bradenton.
This wasn't the only act of kindness the family would commit in the course of one weekend. One day later the family went boating in Sarasota Bay when the water suddenly got rough and a boat nearby with a woman and several teenagers onboard began to sway and fill up with water from the waves, Rodriquez said.
"The boat wasn't equipped to deal with the waves, so we helped pull everyone onto our boat, and we kept the boat from submerging until the police arrived to tow it away," said Rodriguez, who put her first aid and CPR training to use.
When Strike read a recent letter to the editor in the Bradenton Herald from a fellow passenger on her bus, praising the "Angels on University Parkway," as she called them, Strike spent three weeks tracking down the family. She finally found them at work at the group home.
"We read all these stories about all the murders and the shootings, but we seldom read these types of stories about people helping people. They were so helpful to me. I will never forget it," she said.
That sentiment was echoed by the author of the letter, Rayna Creath of Ellenton.
"How does one thank these four adults?" she wrote. "They never left our sides. ... You should be proud of yourselves."
Kathryn Moschella, Lakewood Ranch reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7010. Follow her on Twitter @MoschellaHerald.