Sometimes heroes are just everyday people thrust into unexpected situations.
That’s what happened around 5 p.m. Aug. 22 when a speeding car missed a turn in Miller Park, crashed through a metal gate, launched off a 50-foot embankment and landed upside down in the Sacramento River.
Several staffers and residents at the City’s nearby Safe Ground site witnessed the accident and rushed to save the driver, who was trapped inside the vehicle.
“I could see him upside down, his face was submerged in the water,” said Shona*, who works for First Step Communities, the organization that manages the City’s Safe Ground site for people experiencing homelessness.
Shona had been sitting in her car on a break when the vehicle whizzed past her and plunged into the river. She ran down to the water, where three Safe Ground residents already had arrived.
“They started pulling (the driver) out,” she said. “He was … maybe in a daze. And then he tried to get up, and we were telling him ‘No, it’s OK. Just stay on the ground. You might be hurt.’”
Safe Ground resident Andrew Pendery said he heard the car first, then saw it fly over the embankment. He and the two other residents hurried down to the river’s edge, where the car had landed on its roof in a few feet of water.
While the two other residents removed the man from the vehicle, Pendery used his phone to call 911.
If they had not been there to help the driver immediately, “I don’t think he would have made it,” Pendery said. “It took the Police and Fire Department about five minutes to get there.”
Pendery, a former state employee who experienced an accident that left him unable to work, has been staying at Safe Ground for several months. He said he is hoping to move to more permanent housing soon.
Regarding his response to the accident, Pendery said he understands the value of both offering and receiving help. “I’ll help anybody that needs it,” he said. “I didn’t help pull him out (of the water), but I was on the phone with 911 until emergency staff arrived.”
First Steps staffer Shona, who experienced homelessness as a teenager, said the accident and subsequent rescue just confirms what she already knew. “This gives us hope that there are good people out there,” she said.
Shona, who entered the water to help the driver, did so without thinking of her own safety. “They were pulling him out of the car as I was making my way into the water, and funny fact — I don’t know how to swim. So, I don’t even know what I was doing. I was just doing it.”
The driver sustained minor injuries in the accident, according to the Sacramento Police Department. He subsequently was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol.
* Not her real name. She has requested anonymity for personal safety reasons.