Dorothy Knudsen is alive today because a Yreka, Calif., man risked his life to “do the right thing.” According to the California Highway Patrol, last week, Knudsen, 82, was driving west on Highway 96 when she lost control of her vehicle and ran off the road. She and her car landed in the Klamath River.
Dorothy Knudsen is alive today because a Yreka man risked his life to “do the right thing.”
According to the California Highway Patrol, last week, Knudsen, 82, was driving west on Highway 96 when she lost control of her vehicle and ran off the road. She and her car landed in the Klamath River.
At the same time, Rick Tower, 40, was heading home in his semi truck when he saw the Knudsen’s 1996 Lincoln Towncar go off the road.
He saw the Lincoln as it came around the curve, “and then it went flying off the road like a rocket. The first thing I thought was, ‘What the hell was that?!’ and then I hit my brakes,” Tower recalled.
He got out of the semi and saw that someone in a pickup behind him had also stopped along the road.
“I told him a car had gone into the river and he should call 911,” Tower said.
The next thing that went through his mind was: “What do I do?”
Tower ran down to the river, where the Lincoln Towncar was in the water with the river’s current tugging at it.
He said he saw the car moving, and knew it wouldn’t be long before it was swept down the river.
“I heard her (Knudsen) screaming for help,” Tower said, so he jumped into the river and swam out to the car.
“That current was strong. All I could think about was getting to the car and getting both of us out of the river,” Tower said.
He reached the car and tried opening its door.
“It was hard at first because I couldn’t find the door handle,” he said, but finally he opened the door and grabbed Knudsen.
“It was frightening. Water was rushing into the car, the current was hitting the car and she went under the water a few times. I had a hold of her but I couldn’t get her loose,” he said.
At one point, Tower found himself looking right into Knudsen’s eyes.
“I thought I was going to lose her right there and then,” he stated.
Tower kept pulling at Knudsen until he got her out of the car.
“My boss told me later that people on those kind of situations can do things they usually can’t,” he said.
All he knew was that he had the strength to pull Knudsen out of a sinking car, fighting the river’s current all the while.
Holding onto Knudsen with one arm, Tower started swimming for the shore.
“All that strength I had earlier just left me,” he recalled. “There were a few times I thought we weren’t going to make it, and I found myself thinking about my family – and a lot of things.”
He started praying and pushing himself harder to reach safety.
Tower saw the man from the pickup on the shore with a rope in his hand.
“I was glad to see him. I was damned tired,” Tower said.
Both men made Knudsen comfortable as they waited for help to arrive.
“She wasn’t hurt all that bad,” Tower noted.
CHP Officer Rick Landrum said Knudsen, who was transported to Fairchild Medical Center and later released, was “very lucky.”
“She suffered from a broken ankle and slight hypothermia,” he said. "She’s now in Medford, recovering at her daughter’s home."
The Lincoln Towncar had disappeared in the river, but was recovered sometime Thursday, Landrum reported.
Tower is thankful that everyone is OK.
“Had I been a few minutes earlier or later, I wouldn’t have been there to see everything happen,” he said.
Tower said he’s glad that Knudsen is doing well. He’s trying to adjust to all the attention he’s been receiving.
“Before this, I would drive by an accident, see all the police and paramedics standing there, and find myself thinking, 'What would I do in a situation like that?'” Tower said. “Now I know.”
He doesn’t think of himself as a hero, however.
“I just did the right thing,” he said, “I just helped somebody out.”
Landrum said that the CHP is thinking about recommending Tower for a commendation.
“What this guy did is incredible,” Landrum said, calling Tower “a real hero.”
As for Tower, he spent the day after the incident shopping for new boots.
“I sort of ruined my other ones when I went swimming,” he said with a laugh.
Siskiyou Daily News