s
s
Sections
We don't just cover the North Bay. We live here.
Did You Know? In the first 10 days of the North Bay fire, nearly 1.5 million people used their mobile devices to visit our sites.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Wow! You read a lot!
Reading enhances confidence, empathy, decision-making, and overall life satisfaction. Keep it up! Subscribe.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Oops, you're out of free articles.
Until next month, you can always look over someone's shoulder at the coffee shop.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
We don't just cover the North Bay. We live here.
Did You Know? In the first 10 days of the North Bay fire, we posted 390 stories about the fire. And they were shared nearly 137,000 times.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Supporting the community that supports us.
Obviously you value quality local journalism. Thank you.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Oops, you're out of free articles.
We miss you already! (Subscriptions start at just 99 cents.)
Already a subscriber?
iPhone

Speeding along a curving stretch of Highway 101 in southern Mendocino County Tuesday afternoon, a southbound 20‑year‑old Nevada driver lost control of her car, which veered over a cliff and cartwheeled 300 feet down into the Russian River.

Cold water rushed in and nearly submerged the sedan. The two women inside had just enough air and room to escape the car.

They swam to shore and crawled up the steep cliff to a highway pull‑out near Frog Woman Rock to get help. The spot is a well‑known Russian River landmark south of Hopland and the scene of previous serious crashes.

“Both girls were really scared and cold and injured,” said Hopland Fire Chief Mitch Franklin, the first to arrive at the 3:45 p.m. crash. “They were soaked.”

Paramedics gave medical aid and treated the two for hypothermia. Passenger Aidan Harris, 21, was flown by medical helicopter to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, followed by driver Makaela Dodes, 20, who was taken by ambulance. Both Las Vegas residents were treated and released, according to a hospital spokeswoman Wednesday.

It was the same stretch of highway where firefighters and CHP officers earlier this month investigated a partial head‑on crash during a brief downpour that injured at least one person, fire officials said.

And it was the same stretch of highway where another southbound crash similar to Tuesday’s occurred in June 2016 — the driver lost control and a car carrying two people veered over the edge, the car flipping as it fell before landing on its wheels in the river. Despite being rescued from the car by nearby swimmers, a 6-year-old girl died. Her mother was trapped in the wreckage and seriously injured.

In Tuesday’s incident, the two women told firefighters they were on their way from Washington state to Las Vegas. Dodes was driving.

The CHP said she was going about 70 mph in the left lane of the four-lane divided highway when she lost control. The Lexus swerved into the slow lane and then shot out over the edge.

The Lexus’ front and back ends struck the cliff as it tumbled. The two wore seat belts but several loose items flew out as the car flipped. Firefighters found a debris field of belongings strewn throughout the area including a backpack 100 yards away on the other side of the river, Assistant Hopland Fire Chief Ron Roysum said.

Where the car landed — on a submerged sandbar or rocks — played a key role in their survival, officials said.

“The sandbar held them up just enough. They had air space,” Roysum said.

The driver was able to open her door and helped her friend out. They swam to shore and climbed up, cut, bruised and freezing.

When a tow truck arrived, firefighters realized how close the two women came to a much worse situation because just feet from where the car landed, the river was deeper.

“When we secured it and started dragging it, it completely went under water,” Franklin said.

Roysum called the positive ending “an absolute miracle.”

“They weren’t killed in the event and then the car was 90 percent submerged,” he said. “To go through a horrible wreck like that and end up in the water, my hat’s off to the girls for their self‑preservation and wherewithal to get themselves out.”

The crash just north of Sonoma County closed the highway for about 20 minutes to allow the helicopter to land and take off. The right southbound lane was closed for about two hours to move the vehicle.

The crash remains under investigation, the CHP said.

The Hopland firefighters said the location is a common one for highway emergencies. “We’ve been there quite a lot,” Franklin said.

You can reach Staff Writer Randi Rossmann at 707‑521-5412 or randi.rossmann@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter@rossmannreport.

Show Comment