CASTRO VALLEY (KPIX) — Natalie Griffin survived a car crash last week that killed her best friend, Jenna Santos. It’s still hard for her to talk about it but her family remembers her words.
“She said ‘I thought I was going to die,'” Natalie’s father Jon said.
Natalie still can’t put pressure on her right foot; it’s swollen, cut up and scratched.
“The part that has stitches on it — this happened in the car,” she said. “I remember getting in the tree, my foot was covered in blood and then all these scratches came from the berry bushes.”
Natalie and Jenna were driving home to Castro Valley after spending a couple days in Humboldt County. Jenna was behind the wheel. There was a light rain falling around 7:30 Wednesday night on Highway 101 in Mendocino County, just north of Willits, when their car hydroplaned, flipping several times and landing in a flooded creek.
The two young women tried to kick open the front windshield as water rushed in. Natalie told Jenna to follow her out through a back window that was blown out.
“As soon as she got out, (she) washed onto the same tree that the car was stuck on, pulled herself above the water line, looked down … the car was already underwater, upside down,” Jon Griffin explained.
Nineteen-year-old Natalie held onto the tree for more than 10 hours overnight. The next morning, she was caught in floating debris and almost drowned trying to swim ashore.
“She made it to the shore … At that point she was so weak, she couldn’t walk up to the road so she was crawling, her hands are all scratched up,” Natalie’s mother Midge said.
When she made it to Highway 101, Natalie flagged down a passing motorist. Her first phone call was to her mom.
“She really couldn’t talk,” Midge recalls. “It was kind’ve between crying and deep breathing.”
First responders found Jenna in the submerged car.
The family says that, mentally, it will be a long, slow recovery for Natalie.
Natalie’s family has set up a GoFundMe page for Jenna Santos at: https://gofundme.com/in-loving-memory-of-jenna-santos