Concerned bystanders jumped into fast-moving floodwaters in Santa Clarita to save a man who had become trapped in his SUV after apparently underestimating the debris flow's power on Thursday.
The incident took place on Roadrunner Road in the Canyon Country area, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, near where the Sand Fire burned more than 40,000 acres in July 2016.
Nearly two years later, vegetation still hasn't completely returned to the area, making flooding and debris flows likely during storms like Thursday's. A flash flood watch was in effect for the region Thursday afternoon, but Martinez said he was simply trying to return from an area he had entered for work shortly before.
The road was closed due to hazardous road conditions after Margareto Martinez attempted to cross it in his SUV, and the vehicle overturned in the Sand Canyon Wash.
Martinez came out of the incident uninjured, but told KTLA that he felt like he was going to die.
Witnesses told authorities that Martinez entered the fast-moving waters after others in the area had warned him not to, according to Shirley Miller, a spokesperson for the Sheriff's Department. That may have something to do with the fact that Martinez only speaks Spanish.
Krystina Reyes was driving behind Martinez with her uncle, while both were working for Santa Clarita company I See Party Rentals, when they saw his car lose control and flip over.
"His car just started slowly shifting, and once it shifted, it flipped," Reyes said. "And once it completely flipped over, we just all jumped out."
Reyes' uncle is the man seen risking his life to pull Martinez from his overturned vehicle in cellphone video from the scene. He stabilized the SUV with straps before jumping onto it. He called out for Reyes to give her a rock, and once she gave him one she found along the bank there, he smashed the vehicle's window with it.
Once he broke the window open, Reyes said, he called out for the man inside the trapped vehicle.
"He kept saying he was fine, he was fine," Reyes said of Martinez as he first got out of the vehicle.
"He was soaking wet," she said. "We got him to one of my vans, turned the heater on ... and covered him with a towel. My uncle gave him his jacket."
Another witness said the water was nearly above Martinez's head by the time he was rescued.
Authorities caution Southern Californians that even just 6 inches of moving water can be dangerous. In this case, there was at least a foot.
But, luckily for Martinez, a man who knows him from his work in the neighborhood saw what happened and has already bought him a new car.
"I come over here and saw it and really was sad," said Dennis Neice, who spend about $12,000 on the new vehicle. "He's a good person. He basically just almost lost everything he's got.