PORTAGE, Ind. (CBS) — Two men out looking for fishing holes in Northwest Indiana came across a driver whose truck had crashed off Interstate 94 – and who said he had been stuck for nearly a week.
Indiana State Police Sgt. Glen Fifield said at 3:45 p.m., the Porter County Dispatch Center received a report of a crash on I-94 at mile marker 19 – one mile east of the Portage exit.
Two local fishermen had been scouting out Salt Creek for potential fishing holes, when they came across a mangled truck that was under the I-94 bridge and partially in the creek.
Out of curiosity, the fishermen looked into the truck and saw one man inside. One of the men touched the occupant, thinking he was dead, Fifield said.
But the man in the truck was alive – and he turned and started talking, Fifield said. He told the fishermen he had crashed days earlier, and could not reach his cellphone to call for help.
The truck driver was a man in his late 20s. Medics from the Portage and Burns Harbor fire departments spent a great deal of time extricating the driver from the vehicle, during which time the westbound lanes of I-94 were closed, Fifield said.
The driver suffered severe and potentially life-threatening injuries, Fifield said. He was taken to a hospital in South Bend.
The man had been driving the truck west on I-94 and missed the guardrail that runs just to the east, Fifield said. The truck went down the grass shoulder, went airborne, ended up in the creek, and rolled several times, Fifield said.
It ended up going across the creek – which measures 30 feet wide – and rolled under the I-94 bridge, Fifield said.
“Quite frankly, it’s a miracle that he’s alive in this weather. We’ve been lucky enough during this Christmas season – our temperatures, as you know, are above normal,” said Fifield. “So that was working in this individual’s favor.”
The two fishermen who found the truck driver joined Fifield at a news conference Tuesday evening. They said they were finding their way to the fishing hole when they found the mangled vehicle that was barely recognizable as a truck.
One of the fishermen, Mario Garcia, said he moved the white airbag in the cab of the truck and went to touch what he thought was the driver’s dead body. But the driver turned around, and began speaking.
“It almost killed me there, because it was kind of shocking,” said Garcia, “but he was alive, and he was very happy to see us.”
The truck driver said he had been trapped in the truck since Wednesday of last week – and had survived six days without food or water.
“He said he tried yelling and screaming, but nobody would hear him,” Garcia said. “It was just the quiet sound of the water.”
The truck driver did not say anything about how he survived – but Garcia noted that there was no way the driver could move.
“He had to survive to survive on his youth… and God’s help there,” Garcia said.
Garcia also noted that the terrain along the creek is all riprap and boulders – and he was worried one of the first responders might get hurt trying to rescue the truck driver.
Garcia noted that the site where he and Delatorre found the truck was the last site they were considering choosing to look for a fishing hole. Fifield also noted that they found the truck at 3:45 p.m. – and had the fishermen arrived half an hour later, it would have been dark out and they would not have been able to see the wrecked truck.
The fishermen said they were very glad they came across the man when they did.
“He was at the last bit of it,” Garcia said. “He had one more day, and he thought he wasn’t going to make it.”