He was driving a tan, early 2000s Ford Explorer. As soon as I saw him lose control, I knew nothing good was going to happen. His tires must have caught slush. Then he overcorrected, and it sent him straight toward the guardrail behind me. He hit it head-on and disappeared over the embankment.
I pulled my car over, ran down the road and jumped over the guardrail. I thought he probably just drove down the hill. I was going to go down and make sure he wasn’t stuck.
I couldn’t believe my eyes. I didn’t know there was a creek down there. The vehicle had flipped over and was partially submerged. All I kept thinking was, Oh no, I hope he’s not dead.
When your adrenaline is going like that, you’d be amazed how fast you can run. It’s 70 feet almost straight down to where the hill levels out the first time. Then it’s probably another 10 to 15 feet down to the bank. There are no trees, but there are monstrous boulders by the creek.
I got closer and saw the driver’s fingers moving. I knew he was alive. My first instinct was to get him out before he drowned or got hypothermia. It was about 12 below that day with the wind chill. I took off my jacket and my sweatshirt. I put one foot on one boulder and then one foot on another boulder and jumped into the water. It reminded me of something you’d do when you were a kid.
Despite the temperatures I wasn’t really worried about myself because I was thinking, My blood pressure right now is through the roof. I have at least a half-hour in this water before the oxygen saturation in my blood depletes.
The driver was conscious. I knew the water was so cold that chances were good he wasn’t feeling any broken bones. I bent down into the water, which was up to my neck at this point, and pulled him out.
I picked him up like you would pick up somebody sleeping on the couch to move them to a bed. With the last little bit of energy I had, I got him over to the side of the creek and put him up on a rock so he was out of the water.
From the water to the top of the bank was probably only 4 or 5 feet, but I didn’t have the energy left to get him to the top of it. He was probably 6 feet tall and about 160 pounds. I weigh 135 pounds, so I just had to wait until somebody stopped.
I asked him his name and kept asking him things like when his birthday was, who the president is and the day of the week. Different things like that. I asked him his birthday so many times I remember it by heart: July 6, 1944.
Another motorist got down to us a few minutes later and helped me get the guy the rest of the way up the bank. It was steep. I had to stay in the water and hold him so he didn’t flop back down.
Soon, the EMTs arrived and threw blankets to us. There was a lot of snow. They didn’t want to take the chance of coming down the hill and not being able to get back up, so they called for ropes.
After a few minutes they told me to get out of the water. The ropes hadn’t arrived yet, so I crawled up the hill and called my dad to bring me dry clothes.
I’ve talked to the driver’s wife a few times since, and we did a TV interview. But I haven’t seen him since the wreck. It turns out he fractured his neck and was in the hospital for a while.
We figured that later on — when the weather calms down — we’ll meet up and have lunch.