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75-year-old woman uses 'bear hug' to save man stuck in Fresno County culvert

A 75-year-old woman helped rescue a man from being sucked into this culvert in Tollhouse during a stormy Thursday. Firefighters said her quick actions saved his life.
A 75-year-old woman helped rescue a man from being sucked into this culvert in Tollhouse during a stormy Thursday. Firefighters said her quick actions saved his life. Special to The Bee

A 75-year-old woman helped save a man’s life Thursday morning after hearing a cry for help as storms raged in Tollhouse.

Following the sound, she found a middle-aged man partially lodged in a culvert. Rushing water was sucking him into a pipe diverting a swelling creek under a rural Fresno County road.

She lay down on roadway, in the 28800 block of Gibbs Ranch Road, and reached her arms down to give him a “big bear hug” and held on for close to half an hour, said Cal Fire/Fresno County Fire Capt. Will Goodman from the Blasingame station.

Her quick actions – grasping onto his clothes and hooking a hand under one of his armpits – kept his head above water and prevented him from getting stuck in the culvert. Once firefighters arrived, they used ropes to pull him out of the water. The “hero neighbor” and man were not identified.

“He very easily could have lost his life … if she hadn’t been there and did what she did,” Goodman said. “She definitely saved the day.”

Goodman said the man was monitored by paramedics. He was unaware of any injuries or how the man fell into the drainage.

It’s important to remember, Goodman said, that even water that looks calm on the surface can be fast-moving and dangerous.

If the man had been pulled completely into the pipe, which is approximately 24 inches in diameter, he could have easily gotten stuck and drowned if there was any debris clogging up the passage.

Goodman applauds the Good Samaritan neighbor: “Her strength and determination is what saved his life.”

Carmen George: 559-441-6386, @CarmenGeorge

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