Governor to honor South Shore CHP officer for valor in river rescue
Minutes after her 12- and 15-year-old boys left to get help, leaving her alone, Leticia Hansen was certain her time was coming to an end.
With the driver’s side of her car submerged in the icy Upper Truckee River and filling fast, the 42-year-old mother was unable to move her left shoulder and arm, and her hair was pinned to the wreckage. She was stuck and knew time was not on her side.
As water crept upward inch by inch through the car, Hansen’s one free arm allowed her enough strength to keep her head – at least up to her mouth – above water.
“I thought I was going to die. I thought I was going to drown,” Hansen recalls of the Friday night in November 2006 when her car skidded off an icy Highway 89 near Christmas Valley and plummeted down a 25-foot embankment, resting in the water.
As each minute passed, the water became colder. The pinned left arm was submerged and broken, though she didn’t feel any pain. It was 10:30 p.m. when Hansen’s sons, Nathan and Nicholas, found a motorist on Highway 89 who called for help.
It had been storming earlier, a mix of rain and snow that turned the highway into sheets of ice. Inside the car, Hansen saw nothing but black and heard nothing but water swirling around her.
Then, out of nowhere, she felt the hand of Brian “Scott” Bushey take hold of hers.
“I felt the heat of his hand. It was warm. … I knew then I was going to be OK,” Hansen said.
The South Shore-based California Highway Patrol officer, who has been with the agency for five years, will be honored today in Sacramento along with 30 other state employees, eight of those his fellow CHP colleagues from around the state, as recipients of the Governor’s Medal of Valor, the highest honor that California bestows on its public servants.
It is given to those who have performed an extraordinary act of heroism above and beyond the normal call of duty, at great risk to their own personal safety or life, to save the life of another.
The 31-year-old former Marine and 1994 Douglas High School graduate is being recognized for providing comfort and aid to Hansen on the night of Nov. 3, 2006.
Bushey recalls arriving at the scene, climbing down the side of a rocky cliff and seeing the driver’s side of the car underwater. He climbed on top of the passenger side and saw Hansen submerged in water up to her mouth.
“I looked down and saw her head in the water, bobbing and tugging, trying to get herself out,” he said. “I climbed in, grabbed her by the head and her hair to keep her lifted enough.”
Bushey realized Hansen was trapped in the wreckage, and he would not be able to pull her out on his own. When he first grabbed hold of her, she was only able to breathe through her nose.
“Another 3 inches, and she would have drowned,” Bushey said.
For 45 minutes, Bushey stood in the waist-deep water, attending to Hansen, who was conscious but hypothermic, until Lake Valley Fire Protection District rescue personnel arrived.
Hansen remembers Bushey’s voice and him assuring her help was on the way and she was going to make it.
Both remember hearing someone shout, “Hey, Scott, do you want to get out?”
Hansen at first thought her husband, Scot, was in the water aiding in the rescue. She then realized Bushey shared the same name as her husband. That was comforting, she said.
Bushey declined, telling the shouter that he had a “good grip” on her and already was wet.
“There was no use someone else getting wet and cold,” he recalled thinking at the time.
The vehicle was lifted out of the water, then had to be cut open to release Hansen. She was flown by air ambulance to Reno and released the next day with some cuts and a broken arm.
For his part, Bushey was taken back to the CHP office in Meyers, where he warmed himself up and took the rest of the night off.
Bushey and Hansen have not spoken. That is, until today. Hansen and her husband will be present at the medal ceremony, hosted by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
“I’m proud to award the Governor’s State Employee Medal of Valor to these amazing California citizens,” Schwarzenegger said in a news statement. “These professionals come from different departments and agencies within our state government, but what they all have in common is their incredible bravery. The men and women we are honoring today are true heroes in every sense of the word.”