Homeless couple rescues three from Bear Creek

Car misses turn, plunges into frigid Bear Creek.

December 21, 2010 

It was the noise that got Joseph Edwards' attention.

Edwards, 43, and his common-law wife Bernice Gonzales, are homeless, or "houseless," as Edwards likes to say.

At 12:36 a.m. Friday, the couple was huddled under the G Street bridge over Bear Creek, trying to stay warm and dry in the rain.

"I heard a big bang. I looked, and it was a car that had gone over the embankment and into the creek," Edwards said.

A 2000 Volkswagen Beetle traveling south on G Street missed the turn onto W. North Bear Creek in the driving rain and went off the road and into the water.

Edwards threw his cell phone to Gonzales and told her to call 911. He headed down the steep bank toward the water. "The car was nose down on the hillside, then it flipped into the water," Edwards said.

The water was about 10 feet deep at that spot, Edwards said. "All I could see was taillights," he said.

Edwards could hear a woman screaming and saw she had gotten out of the car through the windshield.

But there were more people in the car. And one person was floating on the water.

"I jumped off the hillside and into the water," Edwards said. "The lady was screaming that there was another person."

Edwards hit the frigid water and tried to find the other people. In fact, there were four people in the car, according to the Merced Police Department accident report.

"I saw a guy floating on his tummy, coming out of the car, so I grabbed him by the sweat shirt and pulled him the rest of the way out," Edwards said.

The man was heavy because his clothing was soaked, so Edwards pushed him toward the edge of the creek. "He was disoriented," Edwards said. "I was worried about his neck, so I held on to him."

About the time Edwards got the last person out of the car, fire and police personnel showed up. "I told them everyone was out of the car," Edwards said.

The police helped Edwards out of the water and got a blanket from the ambulances that showed up.

"I was freezing; that water was so cold," Edwards said.

The people in the car were all taken to Mercy Medical Center, said Merced Police Cmdr. Floyd Higdon, and checked for hypothermia and minor injuries.

"(Edwards) went beyond what we would expect someone to do," Higdon said. "We want to thank him for what he did."

Edwards said the police officers who responded to the accident were very kind to him.

"I was soaking wet; they got me a blanket," he said. "One of them gave me $5 to get some coffee."

After the police, fire and ambulance crews left the scene, Edwards and Gonzales walked to their friend's house. Edwards then realized he still had the sweat shirt of the man he had pulled out of the water.

Monday morning, Edwards stood next to Bear Creek, where the only sign of the wreck was some broken glass and a punched out windshield.

In the drizzling rain, Edwards held the sweat shirt and said "I just hope they're all OK."

They are, thanks to Edwards and Gonzales.

Reporter Carol Reiter can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or creiter@mercedsun-star.com.

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