St. Joseph High School students Brianna Flores, Janelle Brickey and Mason Gonzalez were spending some free time with a few of their friends at Lake Nacimiento in northern San Luis Obispo County on Thursday.
Then, at around 12:30 p.m., something unexpected happened. A woman drove her white Ford Explorer into the lake near Heritage Ranch. The vehicle immediately began to sink.
"My friends and I just got out of the water and, no more than 20 feet away from us, the woman started driving straight into the lake," Brickey said Friday.
The teens jumped into action. Flores, who played soccer at St. Joseph High with Brickey, was the first to act.
"I saw the lady sitting in the driver's seat and I immediately had Janelle throw me a life jacket to give to the lady in her car," Flores said. "I swam to the woman’s car as fast as I could and luckily she had her window down, but unfortunately her car door would not open."
"Brianna was the first to jump in when we could tell that the woman was not getting out on her own," Brickey said.
Flores asked the woman if anyone else was in the car with her and she said no, though her dog was in the vehicle. The group tossed the dog to Brickey, who brought it to shore.
The woman, though, had still not gotten out of the vehicle.
"I began to tell her that she needed to get out of the car window," Flores said. "Not too long after that, my friend Mason and another bystander came over to help me get her out of the car. The woman was weirdly not urgent to get out of her vehicle."
Water continued to pour into the woman's car as it sank, she said.
"I knew I had to get her out somehow, so me and the other bystander both pulled her out right before the car fully submerged up to the window," Flores said. "Thankfully we were able to save her, but I think that if we would’ve tried to pull her out any time after we actually did, she probably would not have made it and gone down with her car.
"It was such a crazy event, but I think I was meant to be there at the time and place that I was."
Flores was quick to point out that the group acted together, saying "I would not have been able to do it myself and I am very grateful to have had my friends and the other bystanders there with me. Fortunately, we were all safe and no one was injured."
Engine No. 33 from San Luis Obispo County Fire arrived shortly after the group had pulled the woman from the car. There were no injuries reported. Monterey County Park Rangers are investigating the incident.
Flores and Brickey are used to working together. They played soccer throughout high school and also played club soccer together.
"We’ve grown to be really close, especially this year," Brickey said of she and Flores, adding the event "was so unexpected. I’m still in shock. We all felt like it was a scene out of a movie. It did not feel like real life. I’m so proud of my friends."
"I have never been in any kind of situation like that," Flores added. "I just saw the woman in trouble and knew I could not watch it happen. Honestly, I just kind of reacted. I immediately reacted without thinking twice about it. Looking back on it, I don’t even really remember my thoughts, I was just trying to get her out as soon as I could."