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Car falls off bridge, driver gravely injured

March 11, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
A car plunged off a Long Beach bridge into the L.A. River, causing the driver to be submerged for more than 20 minutes. According to authorities, fire officials pulled the driver, 24-year-old Lizeth Pimentel, from the murky Los Angeles River channel after her Chevy Suburban crashed through a guardrail on an Interstate 710 bridge at West Seventh Street shortly after 7:30 a.m. Thursday.

Pimentel was taken to St. Mary's Hospital and is in critical condition. As of 4:00 p.m. Thursday, she was still in the hospital's intensive care unit after having two cardiac arrests. It is said that her family is with her at this time.

"Her core temperature at that point when she first arrived was 89," said Andrew Reno of St. Mary's Medical Center. "So they initiated warming measures. She arrested one more time in the ER. They were able to resuscitate her one more time and then transferred her to the ICU."

Long Beach firefighter Joshua Johnson says Pimentel's car plunged about 20 to 30 feet off the bridge and sank in 10 to 15 feet of water.

Emergency responders were at the scene in less than three minutes after getting the call.

"The first units were on scene in approximately 2 minutes, did their initial assessment to determine that they needed additional resources. They called for the Marine Safety Division's lifeguard dive team that's associated with the fire department," said Battalion Chief Frank Hayes of the Long Beach Fire Department. "So we had divers in the water very quickly to check the vehicle and try to rescue the victim."

Divers pulled the woman out of the water about a half-hour later.

Crews found two car seats in the SUV leading them to think that there were two children in the car with the Pimentel. However, officials contacted her family members and learned that she had just dropped off her 4-year-old daughter and nephew at childcare to confirm that she was alone in the vehicle.

With the aid of divers in the water and a big crane anchored off the bridge, rescue crews attached cables to the SUV and hoisted it from the water.

The bridge was closed off during the incident.

While Long Beach police and the CHP investigate the cause of the accident, authorities are urging all drivers to be more careful on local bridges.

Meantime, Pimentel's family pleads for help.

"They say she's an excellent driver. They don't understand how she can have an accident all by herself," said Sister Norma Gutierrez of St. Mary's Medical Center. "If anybody saw anything, they'd be very appreciative if they can call the police to give any information."

There is no word yet on what caused her to lose control of her SUV.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.