ST. PETERSBURG — Had the officer not stopped at a gas station for Gatorade that day in September, Miguel Sanchez probably would have died — or rather, he would have stayed dead.
The St. Petersburg Police Department honored Officer Benji DeJesus on Wednesday with the Lifesaver award for his role in saving Sanchez, a father of three who turns 25 today. The department also recognized Anastasia Hendricks, Amber Williams, Andrea Dukes and David Malone, who also helped that day.
On the evening of Sept. 30, Sanchez slid beneath a red Chevy Cavalier at an apartment complex near 4000 58th St. N. The car's hood was propped open, and a tire lay beside Sanchez, exposing the car's front left rotor. Sanchez is a mechanic, and that day he had agreed to change a friend's sparkplugs. Earlier, when he had arrived, he had parked beside the Cavalier and noticed that he'd forgotten his large car jack.
The owner of the car, Hendricks, asked whether Sanchez thought the factory jack could hold the car.
Yes, Sanchez said, it would hold.
But the car wobbled and fell onto Sanchez's chest. About 2,500 pounds compressed his ribs. He squirmed for two minutes. Then his eyes rolled into the back of his head; his pale skin turned blue.
Hendricks screamed and knocked on neighbors' doors for help. Williams and her mother, Dukes, noticed the commotion and ran up the street, where they saw a squad car parked at the Mobil gas station a block away.
DeJesus had stopped at the gas station to get Gatorade.
When DeJesus neared the Cavalier, he saw two legs sticking out.
"He's dead!" Hendricks yelled.
DeJesus, a small man, grabbed the left front fender, but the Cavalier didn't budge.
"Help me!" he yelled.
Malone lives across the street and happened to be driving by. He tried to lift the car, too, but it was no use. Malone grabbed the jack from his car and tried to raise the Cavalier off Sanchez, who at this point had not twitched for three minutes.
DeJesus can't recall exactly how many people in all helped lift the car. When they finally raised the car, another man pulled the inert Sanchez from beneath (but not before they'd raised and dropped the car on top of Sanchez a couple of times, DeJesus recalled).
DeJesus performed CPR. Sanchez gurgled up blood. By the time paramedics arrived, he had a pulse.
Sanchez woke the next night in Bayfront Health St. Petersburg with a mess of tubes in his throat. He didn't recall a thing. Family members told him of the officer who had saved his life, and Sanchez called to offer his thanks. He'd escaped without a broken bone.
On Wednesday, Sanchez stood at the police station with his fiancee and 1-year-old daughter.
"I would have missed out on a lot with (my kids)," Sanchez said.
DeJesus got a bit teary-eyed and said he will remember Sanchez all his life.
Maybe it was his guardian angel who saved him, Sanchez thought. DeJesus credited his training and the people who helped. Perhaps it was all these things, as well as a hankering for Gatorade.
Weston Phippen can be reached at (727) 893-8321 or firstname.lastname@example.org