An Atascadero woman whose pickup veered off Highway 1 and rolled 150 feet down a Ragged Point bluff when she took her eyes off the road to put out a cigarette was recovering in a San Luis Obispo hospital Wednesday.
Debra Lopez lived on rainwater and prayer for three days before managing to climb uphill to the highway, where she flagged down a passing motorist, police said.
“There are some bumps and bruises, but all in all she’s in very good shape for what she went through,” Atascadero police Sgt. Jason Carr said. “It’s unbelievable.”
Lopez, 57, was driving her 1996 GMC pickup south on Highway 1 about 4:45 p.m. Saturday when she failed to navigate a turn and crashed down the embankment into a ravine that was not visible from the road, according to the CHP.
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Lopez had been reported missing by her husband after she told him Saturday that she was going to the store and then never came home, according to a city missing-person report. It remains unclear why she was near Ragged Point.
Carr, who was investigating Lopez’s disappearance and last spoke with her Wednesday morning at the hospital, said she is in good condition, good spirits and is being treated for dehydration.
Lopez declined to be interviewed Wednesday, but Carr said she explained to him that the ordeal began when she briefly took her eyes off the road.
It was not raining at the time, Carr said, and there were no skid marks or debris in the road to suggest Lopez was involved in a crash or had applied brakes before driving straight off the cliff.
The truck flipped during the descent and landed on its roof about 150 feet from the highway, Carr said. Lopez suffered moderate injuries, including a bleeding head wound and bruised ribs.
She was wearing a seatbelt at the time, he said, and was suspended upside down for a time before regaining consciousness. Carr said she told him she spent a day stranded inside the vehicle because of pain in her ribs before freeing herself.
Lopez had no water in the truck, Carr said, and drank rainwater that had collected in a wheel well from the weekend rainstorm.
Carr said Lopez told him she recited the rosary 14 times a day and thought of her family worrying about her to motivate her for the long and dangerous trek to safety.
Lopez began her climb out of the ravine and up the bluffs on Monday, Carr said, finally reaching the highway about 5 p.m. Tuesday, where she was picked up by a motorist.
The passerby began driving her to a hospital. While en route, she called Atascadero Police Department dispatch, and the dispatcher encouraged the driver to pull over on Highway 1 and wait for medical personnel. They took her to Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center in San Luis Obispo.
CHP Officer Patrick Seebart said late Wednesday that Lopez’s truck remained at the bottom of the cliff and is neither visible nor easily accessible from the road. Seebart said the agency is weighing options to recover it.