BASS LAKE -The quick action of three passing motorists may have saved the life of a North Fork woman who crashed into the Willow Creek canyon this morning.
At about 10:45 a.m. on Tuesday, May 6, Sophia Ruiz, 18, was westbound on Road 274 approaching the bridge at Willow Creek when she lost control on the wet road.
After rounding the corner just east of the bridge, her car struck a large rock on the right side of the road, careened back across both lanes and plunged off the left side embankment and down into the creek and huge boulders below.
It appears that after leaving the roadway, the vehicle went airborne, crashing through trees and flying down the approximately 80-foot cliff to the creek, where it smashed into a large tree and came to rest on the driver’s side in the icy water.
Amazingly enough, Ruiz was conscious and able to get out of the car on her own, but with her injuries, getting up out of the canyon might have been impossible. Luckily, someone was watching when it happened.
Adrian Sherman, also of North Fork, was driving just ahead of Ruiz and saw the incident in his rear view mirror.
“I saw her car just disappear,” he said. “I stopped, but I couldn’t get a cell signal, and I couldn’t get anybody else to stop. They just waved and kept on going.”
Sherman says he jumped in his car and raced to the courthouse about 1/2 mile away, and told them to call 911.
While he was doing that, another vehicle stopped and could hear the driver honking her horn and screaming. She was already out of the car, but it was partially submerged in the cold, fast moving water.
Kaelum Toles and Jason Marshall heard the horn and the screams and bailed down over the nearly vertical embankment to help. Toles went into the water to help the driver make her way over to a large rock, where they waited for paramedics who arrived just a few minutes later.
As first responders prepared to set up a line to hoist the injured woman up from the canyon, CHP blocked off Road 274 from Road 331 near the Bass Lake courthouse, to the Pines Resort turnoff.
Firefighters Jason Hart and Andrew Durrell went down over the embankment with a litter basket and prepared the injured woman to be secured in the litter and safely hoisted up steep bank.
Working together, firefighters, Sierra Ambulance personnel, CHP and the good Samaritans who had stopped to help all grabbed the hoist lines as Cal Fire Battalion Chief Troy Cheek directed the operation.
It took about an hour and twenty minutes to extricate the victim from the canyon and get her safely up to the waiting ambulance. She suffered what were described as serious but not life-threatening injuries and was transported by Sierra Ambulance to Community Regional Medical Center.
Road 274 was closed for over two hours as emergency personnel completed the rescue and the car was hauled up out of the canyon.
Had Adrian Sherman not seen this accident happen, things could have ended a lot worse than they did because no one would have seen the car from the roadway.
Cal Fire Engine 4294 and 4255 responded to the scene, along with Madera County Fire Department Bass Lake Engine 14.