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Woman recalls spending 15 hours atop truck in flooded East Bay creek

Woman survives 15 hours atop truck in flooded East Bay creek
Woman survives 15 hours atop truck in flooded East Bay creek 03:33

LIVERMORE -- When a wet storm rolls in, normally quiet creeks can quickly become raging rivers. An East Bay woman has a harrowing story to tell about the dangers of driving across flowing water.

Jennifer Magruder has to unlock a gate to access the road to her house but, on Sunday, there was an even bigger obstacle keeping her from getting home -- a muddy torrent of water roaring across the street.

"This one is the easy one to cross. The one over there is where my truck flipped," she said. "Yes, this is the easy one. This is nothing."

Livermore Creek empties into Lake Del Valle and, after a rain, water frequently flows over the road. It's exactly the kind of thing that safety officials warn people about.

"Never drive through that standing water or flowing water. As has been said already, many times 'Turn around. Don't drown!'" said Caltrans director Tony Tavares at a pre-storm news conference on Saturday.

On the night of Jan. 23, Magruder was driving to the store to pay her bills, but had no idea the water had been rising. She took a turn in the dark -- admitting she was driving too fast -- and suddenly found herself wheels-deep in the creek.

"I just slammed on the brakes," she said. "But it was too late and the water already picked me up and then two wheels went off the side of the road and then I flipped over and I was upside down and the creek was carrying me underwater. I could push the door open a little but I could only get it open a little bit. So, I got some air and then I had to wiggle my way out. It took about an hour to get out of the truck."

Somehow, she found the strength to pull herself up onto the overturned pickup. That's where she sat for 15 hours until a camper heard her cries the next morning and called for help. A CHP helicopter was able to lift her to safety but it may have been her indomitable spirit that kept her alive.

"I decided I wasn't going to die in the creek. No way! I didn't want to drown in this creek. I'm getting out of here!" she said, laughing.

Magruder's best friend, Denna Patterson-Smelser, says that's just the kind of person she is.

"I couldn't have done it but, yeah, she was not going to let the storm get the best of her," Patterson-Smelser said. "She's definitely a fighter. I love her so much."

Magruder is quick to laugh at the near-death experience but, behind that, there is pain and a lot of uncertainty. Her whole life has changed because of one wrong turn. Her wallet and money are gone and, because she lost her truck, there's no way to travel to home or work. She's living with her friends who have started a GoFundMe campaign for her -- and she's trying to keep a brave face.

"It takes time to process things like this, I'm sure. And losing everything is -- it's terrible," Patterson-Smelser said. "She's still trying to put her life back together."

"I mean, I'm in a hole that I don't know how I'm going to get out of but -- I don't know, I'll figure it out somehow," Magruder said. "At least I have a life, you know? I'm just grateful to be alive and grateful for all the people that helped me."

A GoFundMe campaign was set up for Magruder by her friend Denna Patterson-Smelser

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