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Residents leap into action, help Highway 41 car crash victims

On May 6, multiple Mountain Area residents were the first responders to an accident on Highway 41 at Highway 49. One driver was airlifted to Fresno for injuries while the other driver and their passenger were transported by ambulance.
On May 6, multiple Mountain Area residents were the first responders to an accident on Highway 41 at Highway 49. One driver was airlifted to Fresno for injuries while the other driver and their passenger were transported by ambulance.

Kris Roubique of Oakhurst and her friend Toni Rendino of Coarsegold were enjoying Sunday brunch on May 6, at Pete's Coffee House in Oakhurst, when they witnessed a Ford Fusion accelerate, fly over the median of Highway 41 at Highway 49 and strike a Mustang in oncoming traffic.

"We were silenced by the shock but once it wore, without question, we began to run," said Roubique, 41, a CPR certified patient care coordinator at Adventist Health.

According to Roubique, the Fusion was smoking at its front end and inside the vehicle. The driver, Forrest Null, 70, of Oakhurst seemed unconscious. The women arrived to the vehicle to find locked doors. They pounded on the windows, trying to wake Null.

Van Contero, a resident of Oakhurst and an EMT, was running an errand at Chase Bank when he heard the crash. He too ran to the collision.

The three citizens assessed the situation and divided tasks to assist. Rendino, 44, a medical assistant at Camerna Healthcare, assisted the driver of the Mustang and their passenger — they were dazed but conscious.

"I just kept thinking, I have to help, over and over again — it's my duty, it's my life," said Rendino.

The other two, Contero and Roubique, stayed at the Fusion. The driver's door was locked, his breathing was labored and he was completely unconscious.

"We thought he was either having a heart attack or a seizure but either way we knew we had to do something," said Roubique.

The three acted fast. An unidentified man that witnessed the accident noticed Roubique and Contero struggling to wake the driver. The man grabbed a camping chair from his car and broke open the Fusion's back window.

Contero got inside the vehicle. The driver had a pulse and Contero began to try to stabilize him. By the time they got Null out of the vehicle his pulse had disappeared. They laid him on the ground and immediately performed CPR.

"I am put on this earth to help people, to serve people and I believe God puts us in the right place at the right time," said Contero.

Meanwhile at the Mustang, two travelers from Argentina, Frederico Berra, 34, and Maria Esper, 31, were struggling with language and the event. Esper sustained minor injuries with a gash across her forehead. Berra, who was bleeding, kept saying he was dizzy in Spanish. The two were in the area visiting Yosemite.

Rendino applied a compress to their heads as she repeatedly called out for a Spanish speaker to come forward. She needed to know if they were on any medications. A Spanish speaker arrived, and they learned Berra was on blood thinners.

The California Highway Patrol pulled up to the scene and administered oxygen to Null as Contero continued chest compressions.

"It went on for what seemed to be 15 minutes, Van (Contero) never stopped pumping his (Null's) chest — he was dripping in sweat," said Roubique.

Roubique and Contero backed off when emergency responders approached with a defibrillator.

It was not until Null was gone that Contero realized he knew him.

"He was a mutual friend, this is a small town, everything moved so fast I didn't process that I knew him until after the fact," said Contero. "

When Roubique was asked why she decided to respond to the scene, she asked a question back: "Shouldn't it just be a natural human response to help each other? It's what my gut told me to do."

Emergency officials continued resuscitation efforts as they made their way to airlift Null to Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno.

The CHP reported Null was flown by helicopter with major injuries.

Berra and Esper were taken to Saint Agnes in Fresno by ambulance.

The accident is still under investigation.

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