The Family on the Bridge
Last January, Kelli Groves, 36, settled in to drive the final stretch of a four-hour road trip from her home in San Juan Capistrano, California, to Mission San Luis Obispo. In the backseat, her daughter Sage, ten, huddled under a blanket to watch a movie on her mom’s laptop; infant daughter, Mylo, dozed in a car seat.
Suddenly, as Groves was crossing a bridge on Highway 101, a semitruck attempted to cut in front of her BMW but slammed into its passenger side, instantly pinning the sedan to the guardrail. The truck careened off the bridge and exploded in a ravine 100 feet below, killing the driver.
Groves’s BMW dangled halfway off the bridge. “I thought that within a few seconds, we were going over,” says Groves.
Santa Barbara County firefighters arrived on the scene and tried to stabilize the car with ropes and a tow truck cable, but still the BMW teetered ominously as they sawed it apart to free the family. One firefighter shouted, “We need to stop cutting. We’re losing the car!”
Inside the vehicle, the older girl appeared to be in shock, mumbling, “Help, help.” Groves couldn’t see either child. She reached for the baby, and her hand came back bloody. “I kept tapping her to make her cry, to make sure she was still alive,” Groves says.
Meanwhile, the firefighters had managed to extricate Sage. “We had to [pull] her out first to have room to get to Kelli and the baby,” says firefighter Greg Nuckols.
At the same time, a group of Seabees from a Navy construction battalion pulled up, towing a large forklift. They could see the BMW wobbling at the edge of the bridge and determined that the forklift, which was capable of holding 11,000 pounds, could support the car while rescuers worked their way inside.
With the fire department’s consent, PO 1st Class Frankie Cruz maneuvered the forklift to the vehicle and held it in place. While the forklift cradled the car, rescuers used the jaws of life to slice through the BMW’s mangled roof and pull out Groves and Mylo.
The three victims were rushed to a nearby hospital. Groves suffered a broken pelvis, and Sage had multiple wounds and broken bones. Mylo had emerged with just a few cuts. “That’s impossible!” Groves said with astonishment when she heard the news. Even now, a year after the accident, Groves says the amazing series of events “still baffles me.”
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