KYBURZ, Calif. >> A kayaker was being credited with helping to save a family of five after their SUV had veered off a road and ended up in a Northern California river.
The family was driving along Highway 50 near the Sierra Nevada community of Kyburz Thursday afternoon when their SUV veered off the road, hit a concrete mile marker, a large tree, a boulder and then went into the American River, Sacramento television station KCRA-TV reported.
A kayaker on the river was able to get three children — a 4-year-old girl and two 15-year-twin girls — out of the SUV and get them to shore, officials said.
When the kayaker — identified as Mark Divittorio of Placerville — went back to the SUV he found the driver with his head partly underwater and the man’s wife helping to hold his head up, the station said.
“It was fortuitous that they didn’t actually land on me,” Divittorio told KCRA. “I was kayaking right there moments before they plunged off the cliff.”
A fire crew that happened to be in the area for another call was able to get to the scene within three minutes, Mike Pott, division chief of the El Dorado County Fire Protection District, told The Associated Press.
Firefighters were able to stabilize the driver and get him and his wife out of the vehicle, which was on its side and half-submerged in the river, Pott said.
The driver, Christian Lemler, 50, of Livermore, suffered moderate to major injuries, said California Highway Patrol Sgt. Mike Poore. With the cause of the crash still under investigation, it had not been determined how fast the SUV was going when it crashed into the river. It was raining at the time, but it was not known if the weather contributed to the crash.
The other family members suffered only bumps and bruises, officials said.
“All the circumstances came together,” Pott said. “Several things came together to help save this family.”
The two adults and the two teens were wearing seatbelts, while the child was strapped into a car seat, Pott said.
“If they didn’t have their seatbelts on I’m sure they would have all been ejected,” he said.
The area where the accident took place is in rural El Dorado County, about 75 miles northeast of Sacramento.