Teen Pulls Friend from Car Wreckage
Mario Ruiz is thanking his lucky stars, his seat belt – and his good friend Josh Smithhart.
The two South Tahoe teens were traveling home from Auburn, Calif., Monday on U.S. Highway 50 shortly after 11 p.m. when Smithhart passed a soda to Ruiz, who was at the wheel. Smithhart’s cigarette accidentally brushed Ruiz’s hand, causing him to flinch.
“That made me steer the car into the oncoming lane,” said Ruiz. “When I steered back to the right, we slid around 180 degrees, hit the guardrail and flipped up in the air.”
Ruiz said the last thing he remembers before losing consciousness was glass breaking in his face.
But Smithhart remembers it all.
“We flipped over two times,” he said. “When we stopped I saw that Mario was unconscious.”
Smithhart’s ’82 Honda Civic tore out the guardrail and rolled roughly 100 feet down a ravine near Pollock Pines – so far down, in fact, that California Highway Patrol officers reported having trouble locating the vehicle later.
“The car battery was in Josh’s lap and the front seats were broken into the back seat when we stopped rolling – we were on our backs,” said Ruiz. “I heard Josh calling my name, trying to get me to wake up – he thought the car was going to blow up.”
The doors were crushed in, so Smithhart pulled the 230-pound Ruiz out through the broken windshield, and led him through heavy bushes up the steep hill to the highway.
“Mario kept falling because he was delirious,” said Smithhart. “I just kept picking him up and pushing him up the hill.”
A passing motorist with a cellular phone called an ambulance and the two were then transported to Marshall Hospital in Placerville.
“They took quite a tumble,” said California Highway Patrol Officer Mike Campbell. “It’s important that people know there were no drugs or alcohol involved.”
“One thing we never do is drink and drive,” said Ruiz. “I learned that from a friend who crashed his car. We were within the speed limit, but it’s amazing what one wrong move can do.”
While Smithhart suffered only minor cuts and bruises, Ruiz is still nursing a fractured nose, a sprained neck and bruised ribs, elbows and shoulders.
“It was the seat belts that saved our lives,” said Ruiz, 19. “The CHP said it’s a miracle that we’re alive. Seat belts are real important.”
“No doubt about it,” echoed Campbell. “It was the seat belts that saved them.”
But Ruiz is thankful for a lot more than his seat belt.
“Without Josh I wouldn’t have been able to get out of the car – he pulled me out. He was able to stay calm,” said Ruiz. “Now I realize how easily life can be taken away – in a heartbeat.”
Although he was in shock, Smithhart said all he could think about was getting his friend out of the car.
“I had to get him out, he’s my friend – I couldn’t leave him,” said Smithhart. “What I did was not a heroic thing. Any friend with common sense would have done what I did.”
But the Ruiz family disagrees.
In honor of his heroic gesture, they will present 17-year-old Smithhart with a special plaque with the inscribed message, “You’re all right for a white guy.”
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