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Canal Car Crash Prompts Rescue Effort
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No one was injured ... but lives were in danger when a car went out of control and into the South San Joaquin Irrigation District canal along River Road between Escalon and Riverbank early Friday morning, July 9.

According to California Highway Patrol spokesman Angel Arceo in the Stockton CHP office, the crash occurred about 7:50 a.m., roughly two miles north of Riverbank on River Road, east of McBride Avenue. The driver of the Volkswagen, identified as 21-year-old Yuri Lara of Riverbank, was westbound on River Road when her car went off the roadway and into the canal. Lara told authorities it seemed as though something happened with the steering column in the car, causing her to lose control.

Escalon resident John Bedell, who was also in the area while driving to work, arrived on the scene just after the car went into the canal and made a split second decision that may have saved Lara's life and that of her one-year-old child, strapped in a safety seat in the car.

Arceo said Bedell and another driver that also stopped worked cooperatively, with Bedell jumping in to the canal to get to the vehicle, which was tipping forward and starting to sink into the estimated eight feet of water in the irrigation canal. Lara had gotten her child out of the safety seat and handed the toddler to Bedell, who then swam back to the side of the canal and gave the child to the other driver.

He then returned to the quickly sinking VW and helped Lara to safety on the canal bank as well.

Emergency personnel were not initially called to the scene, said Arceo, with Bedell determining that time was of the essence and jumping in to the canal to attempt rescue efforts before calling 9-1-1.

Escalon Consolidated Fire Protection District Chief Rick Mello said his department was not even made aware of the incident as it was occurring, but did learn about it later.

"They were very lucky," Mello said, noting that in those types of situations, the would-be rescuer can also become a victim.

Fortunately, agreed Arceo, everyone came out safe in this case.