“The right guy in the right place at the right time,” is how Mark Divittorio was informally described by the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, May 14. The veteran kayaker was awarded a hero’s plaque by the board for his rescue of a Livermore family from the American River near Kyburz on April 4.
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Divittorio described his role in the dramatic events in a bit of an “aw shucks, anyone would have done it” way, but conceded it was a “very intense few minutes.” Moments after he pulled his kayak to shore, he heard the sound of the Lemler family’s SUV careening down the mountainside and into the river about 200 feet upstream. He said he ran up the bank and found 15-year-old twin girls holding onto their 4-year-old sister, all clinging to the top of the car. The older girls’ action was “remarkable,” he said. “They got out so fast, they were hardly even wet yet.”
Divittorio said he helped the youngest girl to shore and with help from another bystander was able to get the older girls off the car and onto solid ground. Then he went back to try to get the mother and father out of the vehicle. That was life and death in a small, unstable place. The father was trapped by his seatbelt with his legs stuck in the mangled wreckage. The seatbelt, in fact was holding his body up, but his head was barely above water. Divittorio referred to him several times as “a big man.”
The wife was trying to keep her husband’s head out of the water as the current slowly pushed the vehicle downstream. Divittorio said he was afraid to cut the belt in case he was not able to pull the man out in time.
Within three minutes, personnel from the El Dorado County Fire Protection District arrived on the scene fully equipped to complete the rescue. By chance they had been nearby on the way back from another call.
“Mark was in the right place at the right time and had the courage to do what he did,” Acting Chief Michael Hardy said. “We get these calls, but usually they don’t turn out well.”
A Realtor by profession, Divittorio has also taken EMT courses, worked on the river and been a kayaker for many years. He credited all those experiences with helping him to keep a cool head and deal with the situation safely and effectively.
District 3 Supervisor Brian Veerkamp and board chairman Ron Briggs co-sponsored the award ceremony. Veerkamp, a 30-year veteran of fire services and director of local fire and emergency training programs, gave a shout-out to Divittorio’s expertise and said, “you learned all of these things right here in this county. This one worked out very well.”
“It clearly took a lot of courage to respond the way Mark did,” Briggs said. “We all hope there is someone like Mark around when the moment of crisis arrives.”
Supervisors presented Divittorio with an inscribed plaque for his “extraordinary and selfless acts of courage to protect and save the lives of others without hesitation.”
Divittorio was effusive in his thanks to the board and to the other first responders who turned the potential tragedy into a real story of inspiration. And in a phone conversation Thursday, he told the Mountain Democrat, “I was flattered and the honor of the ceremony is really heartfelt.”
The multi-agency effort to rescue and transport the Lemler family to area hospitals also included personnel from the Cameron Park Fire Department/Cal Fire, the California Highway Patrol and the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Department, according to a prepared statement from the county’s Chief Administrative Office.
Contact Chris Daley at 530-344-5063 or [email protected] Follow @CDaleyMtDemo.