Strangers bond to rescue neighbor nearly crushed by his truck, then melt back into isolated lives
Noreen Powick was doing homework. Elia Gonzales was folding clothes. Jose Cervantes and Yuridia Camacho were watching TV.
It was an ordinary Saturday until 4 p.m.
Thats when the quiet Cornelius block exploded with adrenaline, screams, cracked bones and life-or-death actions. For five minutes, a small group of strangers bonded to rescue Scott Lakey, a neighbor most had never seen.
Lakey, 32, moved into his second-floor apartment in the pine-green house on 29th Avenue last year with his two daughters, ages 4 and 6.
He knows only two neighbors by name. Several others speak only Spanish. Its definitely not the Hillsboro neighborhood of his childhood, where everybody knew each other and half the people on his block were family, he said last week.
Saturday, May 18, Lakeys girls were off with their mother when he decided to replace the flywheel on his Chevy S10 pickup. In the parking lot, he drove the trucks front wheels up on ramps and blocked the back wheels with wood, then scooted under and set to work.
Fifteen minutes later, with no warning, the truck slid onto Lakeys chest.
Lakey had heard of people dying in similar situations, but he was too busy struggling for air to remember that. Mainly he thought of his daughters.
The pressure was tremendous, but he managed to keep his head free and scream for help.
It was hard. I was real short of breath, said Lakey. His cellphone was just out of reach. He could see cars passing by on the street and he tried banging a pipe against his truck to draw attention.
No cars stopped. No people came. Minutes passed. Lakey began to feel dizzy from lack of air.
I was just about to pass out, he said.
Somebody help me!
In his apartment, Jose Cervantes, a cabinetmaker, was watching TV when he heard screams from outside. He ignored them, thinking rowdy neighbors were goofing around. He expected the screams to stop soon.
Oh God, somebody help me! The screams continued until Cervantes, unsettled, got up and went out to the street. He looked around but saw nothing, so went back to his TV.
But his girlfriend, Elia Gonzales, heard screaming too and after a few more minutes, Cervantes went outside again with Gonzales. This time they followed the screams past a cluster of tall evergreens that shields the home next door. They found a pickup and, on the other side, a man pinned beneath it.
From across the street, a Latino man who speaks only Spanish came to investigate. A white man showed up too, said Cervantes, who didnt know either one.
Noreen Powick, 23, had been ignoring the cries while she studied, but her sister, who was getting ready to take a shower, could hear them more clearly through an open window and called to Powick to find out what was wrong.
Powick got there in time to join Gonzales on the ground by Lakey, ready to pull him out as soon as the men lifted the 4,500-pound truck an inch or so off the ground.
The men gave one great heave, Cervantes said, but couldnt quite lift it high enough.
They let it down, panting, and waited a few seconds before trying again. This time Gonzales and Powick managed to pull Lakey free.
He was so out of breath, he just started to cry, said Powick, who immediately called 911. Gonzales, 56, stroked Lakeys head to try to soothe him.
You guys saved my life, Lakey said over and over. Thank you. Thank you.
Rescuers remember intensity
Around that time, Camacho, who lives in the same small apartment building as Powick and Gonzales but doesnt know either of them, joined the group.
Camacho, 35, knelt by Lakey, gently pushing him back down when he tried to sit up.
No. Stay here, she told him in her accented English, worried he might aggravate his injuries before the ambulance came.
He was scared, she said last week as her 12-year-old daughter, Grace, interpreted. He was crying and saying if no one came, he would have died there.
Within minutes, an ambulance picked up Lakey and took him to an empty lot on Highway 8 to wait for a LifeFlight helicopter. Lakey, who is unemployed, tried to object. I got two kids. I couldnt afford a bus ride, let alone a helicopter ride, he said.
Then he remembered he had health insurance through a state health plan because hes the primary caretaker for his daughters.
LifeFlight flew Lakey to Portlands Legacy Emanuel Hospital, where he learned he had two fractured ribs and one broken rib meaning it was torn from his sternum along with other injuries.
His rescuers, meanwhile, were still reeling from the intensity of the incident. Camacho worried about Lakey for the rest of the day.
Pobre hombre, she kept thinking. Poor man.
Its so bizarre, Powick said last Thursday, five days after the rescue. Im still in shock. I still havent even met him.
The day after his brush with death, Lakey tried to hunt down his neighbors to thank them. He found Cervantes but missed some of the others.
Not knowing any of them, it was difficult to remember everyone involved.
They came out of nowhere, he said, lifted the truck off me, saved my life and went back into the woodwork.