SUNNYVALE (KPIX 5) – Two sheriff’s deputies are being praised for helping save a driver seconds before his car was struck by a Caltrain in Sunnyvale Monday evening.
Deputy Lance Whitted of the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office, which handles law enforcement on Caltrain, said he only had a split second to make a decision.
“The train was coming, and at that point after he was not responding. I knew I just had to take control of the situation and physically remove him from the train (tracks) for both our safety,” Whitted said.
In cellphone videos, Whitted is seen pulling 20-year-old Nelson Gomez to safety.
According to authorities, Gomez had been driving erratically and slammed into a signal post just as the gate arm was coming down and a northbound train was approaching.
“He was sitting in his seat obviously injured and nearly incapacitated,” Whitted recalled. “I grabbed him by his arm, pulled him from the vehicle, at which point we got a few feet from the car. I noticed the train was coming in at the angle the car was parked, the car was still going to possibly strike us. At that point, I dragged the driver a few feet further from the car.”
Deputy Erik Rueppel ran down the tracks toward the approaching train, to try to get the conductor to stop.
“I decided at that point, run south toward the train, waving my arms, trying to give him the signal that he needed to stop the train,” Rueppel recalled. “And as he passed me, that’s where I took a breath and Deputy Whitted and the car went out of my view and I heard the impact. So I guess at that point I hoped that they got out.”
Both Rueppel and Whitted said they did what they had to do under the circumstances.
“I am definitely proud of what I did,” Whitted said. “Essentially saving someone’s life that is the greatest thing you can do as a police officer or deputy sheriff.”
Just before the rescue, investigators said Gomez was involved in two other hit-and-run incidents. Gomez will be charged with felony DUI, hit and run, driving without a license and a probation violation.