Seven months after the car driven by San Juan Capistrano resident Kelli Groves hung perilously from a Santa Barbara County bridge, the teacher finally drove north to thank her rescuers in person Sunday.
“The people who saw what I saw, heard what I heard, felt what I felt, feared what I feared and sighed the biggest breath of relief that I also took in are here, and I haven’t been able to connect with that months,” she said, surrounded by firefighters and California Highway Patrol officers whom she hugged in gratitude.
The news team from Santa Barbara television station KEYT caught the reunion on video, and you can see it here.
It was a , not only for Groves’ and her two daughters’ survival of the initial impact with a big-rig truck but for the .
Groves, on maternity leave at the time, was headed north with then 10-week-old Mylo and 10-year-old Sage to visit Mission San Luis Obispo Jan. 12 when an 18-wheeler traveling near her did not turn with the curve of the road but headed straight off the Nojoqui Creek bridge just south of Buellton, clipping the backend of her car.
The car came to a rest, wedged into the bridge railing, more off the bridge than on, an unrecognizable hunk of twisted metal.
Later, investigators blamed the crash on . He died upon impact 50 feet below the bridge, his truck bursting into flames.
That a group Navy Seabees had been traveling the other side of the highway with just the right of heavy-duty forklift the Santa Barbara County firefighters was one of several stars that aligned that day. The image of the forklift stabilizing the car and allowing Groves and her daughters to escape is one that made the national morning new programs and newspapers across the Atlantic.
"It's amazing to watch a woman hang that far and do that [stay calm for her children]. That's why we said she was strong," firefighter Greg Nuckols told KEYT News.
Patch Editor Penny Arévalo drove the bridge Friday, and damage to the railing is still evident.
Stay tuned for exclusive photos from Sunday's reunion.