A Car Was Teetering on the Edge of a 50-Foot Drop When Strangers Stepped in to Help

One sudden move by the occupants of the car would send it over the edge.

Car teetering on a ledgeCourtesy Julio Vasquez
“There was a cloud of dust, and I thought she had gone over,” one rescuer said.

It was rush hour on the morning of June 1 in the West Texas city of San Angelo. Heather Santellano, 36, was driving her white 2012 Mazda on Houston Harte Frontage Road with her nine-year-old daughter and ten-year-old son in the back. Suddenly, a red pickup truck cut them off. ­Santellano turned the wheel hard to the right, sending the Mazda skidding off the road and down an embankment that ended in a drop-off after about 50 feet. If the car didn’t stop, it would go airborne and plunge onto the road some 20 feet below. Then a bit of luck: As the car raced toward the edge, its under­carriage got stuck on the cement lip of the embankment ledge, stopping it cold.

The occupants, however, were far from safe. The car had come to rest on top of a retaining wall, literally teetering on the edge of disaster. One sudden move by anyone inside could send it over.

Jacob Rodriguez watched the scene unfold from the truck-accessories company where he works. A veteran, he whispered a Navy mantra: “Ship, shipmates, self,” then he and four other men ran to the car. They leaped onto the trunk to balance the weight as the terrified kids in the back seat watched.

Meanwhile, Julio Vasquez and his nephew, Marco Vasquez, were driving to their jobs at nearby Premier Automotive. Julio jumped out of the car to help while Marco went to the shop, grabbed a heavy-duty strap, and returned to the dangling car. He tethered the Mazda to an F-350 truck that had been driven over by one of the other rescuers. With the car secured, the group carefully opened the back doors and helped the children out.

But their departure shifted the car’s weight, causing it to tilt forward. The men, still on the trunk, implored Santellano to jump into the back seat to rebalance the weight. She did and then inched out the back door. Finally, the men carefully got off the trunk. Everyone was safe. “Another foot,” Rodriguez told USA Today, “and this would be a different story.” Read about the things you should do right after you get into a car accident.

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Andy Simmons
Andy Simmons is a features editor at Reader's Digest.