MERCED, Calif. – A truck driver in Merced, Calif., was in the right place at the right time late last week when a California Highway Patrol officer signaled him to stop beneath an overpass.
Instead of a citation, driver Joe Heberline was about to get a surprise.
The bed of his rig, a Merced Irrigation District dirt hauler, provided a soft landing moments later for a man who was intent on jumping into traffic on the road below from the overpass on Highway 99 above.
Just after 2 p.m. Friday, CHP Officer Greg Houser responded to a call from a motorist concerned that a man was riding a motorized wheelchair against traffic on the northbound shoulder of Highway 99.
When Houser arrived at the scene, he saw the man, 35-year-old Raul Munoz, hanging over the guardrail, prepared to jump into the traffic below on Martin Luther King Jr. Way.
Houser grabbed the man by his jacket to keep him from falling. Moments later, Merced County Sheriff Mark Pazin arrived on scene and assisted Houser by holding the man’s left arm.
On the ground below, Officer John Moran directed Heberline to park under the overpass. Just as the big rig stopped, Munoz’s T-shirt ripped, and he fell 10 to 20 feet into the trailer of the truck.
“Officer Houser couldn’t hold on forever,” Moran said. “Had it been another six or seven feet, if the truck wasn’t there, he might not have made it.”
Heberline said he didn’t deserve any special attention for his actions; he didn’t even have time to process what was happening before he moved the truck.
“I was getting ready to get on the highway and the cop stopped me and said ‘Hey, let this guy fall in your bed so he won’t get hurt,’ ” Heberline said. “It was just the right place at the right time, I guess.”
Munoz was conscious after the fall and was evaluated by medical workers who climbed into the truck bed. Munoz was transported to Doctors Medical Center in Modesto, Calif.