CBSN

Hero In The Night

basketball hoop generic
AP
Jimmy Baxter is a college basketball star who's also an Olympic hopeful in the high jump.

But, this story is not about his obvious physical gifts as an elite American athlete. It's about the size of his heart and what he went though to save the lives of two total strangers. That makes him The Early Show's American Hero.

As Baxter warms up, University of South Florida basketball fans look for the shooting touch that makes him one of their top scorers. It's the way he leaves the ground and soars to the rim that drives fans crazy.

But Baxter's biggest fans are a father and son, recent immigrants from war-torn Bosnia. Narcis and Ernesto Pavlov say they admire Baxter for his qualities off the court.

Baxter says it was raining hard in Florida on Dec. 12, 2002, just after 7 p.m. Baxter had finished practice and was making the short drive home to St. Petersburg's south side.

The Pavlovs had just gotten off work and were headed home.

"The guy hit the brakes in front of us and my dad tried to slow down and we lost control," recalls Ernesto.

Baxter was driving four cars behind them in the far left lane.

"When you see a car flip over, spin around and land in a ditch, smoking and the lights turned away from the road, you know you gotta do something," says Baxter.

The Pavlovs were trapped upside-down.

"Half of the windows were stuck in the mud so we could not open the doors or nothing," says Ernesto.

Narcis says after the car flipped, they were scared of burning in the car.

Baxter managed to pull his car off the road and was a half a mile from the accident.

"At first I thought it was going to blow up or something because it was smoking," says Baxter.

"Then my attention went to the young guy beating on the glass trying to get out. He was like, 'Help, help us please!'"

Baxter tried to kick in the windows with his boots, but it didn't work. He then tried to stop a passing car on the highway. Nobody wanted to stop.

"Basically [I was]trying to dodge cars and not get hit and stop someone at the same time," says Baxter. "But I don't think nobody's gonna stop for a 6'6" black guy in the middle of the rain."

Baxter finally managed to stop a car and get a crowbar, but time was running out.

"God made it where I understood what I had to do," says Baxter. "Winding it up and swinging like it's Sammy Sosa or somebody. It took me three chances, but it finally broke."

The father and son were pulled out of the car. The city of Tampa took notice of Baxter's action and thanked him for his heroic deed.

But, the best gift of all was the thanks of Senita Pavlov, a woman who was given back her husband and son by a stranger on a rainy night.