A man who crashed his truck into the San Gabriel River today is alive thanks to two men who risked their own lives to save him.
Seal Beach construction manager Keith Dodson was jogging nearby when he saw the truck go into the river near the PCH bridge a few hundred yards shy of the Pacific Ocean. Ryan Gordon, a financial advisor from Redondo Beach saw the accident from his second story office at Wells Fargo Financial. Neither hesitated to jump in and rescue the driver, a 42-year-old Placentia man, who was trapped inside the sinking truck.
The dramatic rescue happened just after 8 a.m. Tuesday.
“I was jogging on the bike trail, and I saw something big slide into the water,” said Dodson.
At first Dodson thought it was a trash dumpster, but then he realized it was a truck with a person trapped inside. He ran the 50 yards to get to the truck.
At the same time Gordon, who has only been working at the nearby Wells Fargo Financial office a month, ran down stairs and dove into the water dressed in slacks and a dress shirt.
“I was able to see the guy struggling to get the doors open,” Gordon said.
The electric windows wouldn’t roll down, and the doors couldn’t open against the water pressure. The driver tried to squeeze out the little manual window at the back of the truck’s cab which wasn’t yet submerged, but it was two small for his shoulders to get through.
“I kept telling him, ‘you’re going to have to try to kick out the windows,” said Gordon.
That’s when Dodson swam over carrying a large stone he picked up from the jetty.
“The truck was sinking slowly and being pulled out toward the ocean,” said Dodson. “I got to the passenger side window, which was about a quarter submerged. I struck the window with the rock, but it didn’t break. By my third try, I punched through the window. The truck sank instantly and sucked me down with it. The water pressure sucked my upper torso to the window.”
Dodson though he was going to die.
“I wouldn’t have ever believed it could go so wrong so quickly. From the point where I smashed the window to where the truck sucked the driver and myself under water was probably three seconds,” Dodson said. “ When I got sucked against the car, I had a quick life-flashed-before-your-eyes kind of moment.”
Braced against the window, Dodson waited for the cab to fill up and reached in and pulled the driver through the window. They surfaced at the same time, and the two rescuers helped carry the driver to shore.
Neither Dodson nor Gordon see themselves as heroes.
“I don’t look at it like that,” said Dodson. “It’s just good to have a happy ending to a story that could have been tragic.”
It was the first time Gordon was ever in a life or death situation.
“I am not a trained EMT. I have taken a CPR class, but this isn’t my thing, really,” said Gordon, who was back to work and catching a plane for on out-of-town meeting before the day’s end. “It was surreal.”
As for the driver, he wasn’t really sure what happened, said police and fire authorities who responded to the scene. He had driven to work in his 2005 blue Ford F150 even though he was feeling ill. The last thing he remembers is pulling into the parking lot at the 6700 block of PCH, said Fire Fighter Will Nash, a spokesman for the Long Beach Fire Department. According to the Long Beach Police Department, the driver became quite ill and inadvertently hit the gas pedal, driving through a chain link fence and flying over the rock jetty and into the water.
“The next thing he knows, he’s underwater in his truck,” said Nash. “These two Samaritans saved his life.”