Kayaker Saves Family From Submerged SUC on American River

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A kayaker who helped pull a Livermore family out of an SUV that crashed into the American River on Thursday after he happened upon the submerged vehicle said that any kayaker would have done the same.

Mark Divittorio heard the crash as he was finishing up his run that afternoon, and went 200 feet upstream to find the SUV on its side in the river with three young girls standing on top of it, he said today.

The car had careened off of U.S. Highway 50 near Kyburz, a town approximately 75 miles east of Sacramento, shortly before 3 p.m., striking a concrete mile marker, a tree and a boulder before landing in the river, California Highway Patrol Sgt. Mike Poore said.

Divittorio told a woman on the shore to call for help, and quickly went to work, first transporting the youngest of the three girls, 4 years old, to shore with his kayak.

He then asked for help from another man on the riverbank, and the two then transported the other two girls -- twin teenagers -- back to shore, he said.

However, when he looked into the front of the car, he realized saving the girls' parents was going to be much more complicated.

The girls' father's legs had becomes stuck in the mangled wreckage, and the SUV was being pushed further over by the river's current.

He was hanging upside down, and his seatbelt was keeping his head above the water.

His wife was trying to keep him conscious, talking to him.

Divittorio feared that if he pulled the woman from the car, the current would only push the car further over, and if he cut the seatbelt the man would become trapped with his head underwater.

"Manipulating a body out of it would have been almost impossible," Divittorio said.

But minutes before the crash Divittorio had noticed a fire truck go by on the road, and he again called to shore, telling bystanders to call the fire department's dispatch center and tell them to send the fire truck back.

They did, and the truck returned within three minutes, and had the right equipment to pull back the vehicle, cut the seatbelt, free the man and bring him safely ashore.

The father was identified as 50-year-old Christian Lemler and he was taken to Marshall Hospital in Placerville with moderate to major injuries, but the injuries are not considered life-threatening, Poore said.

Divittorio, 42, lives in Coloma and owns a small real estate business in El Dorado County.

He said that his quick thinking and calm response to the scene was mostly due to his experience kayaking.

He said the common spirit of adventure and preparation for worst-case scenarios means that kayakers have to help each other out in tough situations.

"I believe any of my kayaker friends would have done the same thing," he said. He also has taken EMT, first aid, and CPR classes and was raised by a surgeon.

He also stressed that it was a collaborative effort, starting with the children getting themselves out of the car quickly, then with the assistance of bystanders, the efforts of the woman in the car to keep her husband conscious, and the firefighters who finally helped them out of the car.


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