Paul Tafalla saved Erica Rodriguez and Jessica D. Becerra from burning , Dallas, Texas, July 31, 1988. Erica, 7, and Jessica, 2, were pasengers of a van that collided with a pickup truck and was forced off the highway. Flames erupted on the van and spread to the dry grass beneath it. Tafalla, 43, optical technician, and his wife witnessed the collision and went to the van. Despite intense heat, dense smoke, and the flames, Tafalla reached into the van through a broken window on the driver’s side and removed Erica, who was near the window. After handing Erica to his wife, who took her to safety, Tafalla maneuvered part way into the burning van for Jessica, whom he then seized, removed through the same window, and handed to his wife. Aided by his wife and another man, Tafalla removed two other victims from the crash site moments before the van and pickup were engulfed in flames. Erica and Jessica were hospitalized for injuries received in the accident, and they recovered.63308-7439
Paul Tafalla, 77, of Dallas, Texas, passed peacefully on July 2, 2022, surrounded by loved ones.
Paul was born on August 26, 1944, to Jose and Guadalupe Tafalla in Dallas, Texas. He was one of six siblings raised in the historical South Dallas neighborhood of “El Pozo.” The family later moved to Vanderbilt Avenue in East Dallas. Paul attended Spence Middle School, where he won a football championship. After Spence, he attended and graduated from Crozier Tech High School.
After graduation, Paul enlisted in the United States Army and served a 4-year enlistment with two tours in Vietnam. He was part of the 1st Cavalry Infantry division as a door gunner aboard the Huey and Chinook gunships. Paul was proud to have been one of the first helicopter divisions to experience combat in Vietnam. He was honorably discharged in April 1967 with a rank of SP5. After the military, Paul was a precision optician at Texas Instruments, where he worked on multiple defense contracts for over 20 years.
Paul met Sarah Lucille Nañez while she and a friend (Paul’s cousin) visited Dallas in 1967. The two reconnected in 1972 and later married in November 1973. Their marriage was blessed with three wonderful children: Paul Anthony, David, and Rachel.
Paul was a member of the Freemasons and the Shriners Society. He also belonged to the American Legion, VFW, and Disabled Veterans.
Paul received the Carnegie Medal of Heroism for his bravery. He was also honored by the Dallas SERTOMA Club, The Dallas City Council, The Dallas Fire-Rescue Department, The Dallas Police Department, The Garland City Council, and The State Legislature of Texas for saving four lives in a fiery head-on car collision.
Some of his fondest memories were his years as a youth sports coach. Paul won two Coach of the Year honors, multiple division titles, and league championships. He often spoke highly of his team’s achievements and was pleased when he saw them succeed in life.
Paul lived a very selfless life and always put others before himself. He was very dedicated to his family as a great husband, loving dad, and proud grandfather. Paul will be greatly missed but not forgotten. He was preceded in death by his father, Jose Tafalla, mother, Guadalupe Tafalla, and siblings, Jesusita Tafalla, Joe Tafalla, Jesse Tafalla, and Rufus Tafalla. Survivors include his wife, Sarah Lucille Tafalla, and children, Paul A. Tafalla (wife Kristi), David Tafalla (wife Kristina), and Rachel Tafalla. Grandchildren include Kayci Tafalla, Michael Tafalla, Roman Tafalla, and Katerina Tafalla. His surviving sibling includes Nellie Ortez (husband Jesse). His surviving extended family includes numerous nieces, nephews, cousins, and friends.