Bed, crash and beyond



FRIGHTFUL—Onlookers and deputies observe the scene where a truck crashed into cars in front of the store. RICHARD GILLARD/Acorn Newspapers

FRIGHTFUL—Onlookers and deputies observe the scene where a truck crashed into cars in front of the store. RICHARD GILLARD/Acorn Newspapers

Jan. 3 started off as a routine day for the staff of Thousand Oaks’ Bed Bath & Beyond. But things soon took a dramatic turn when the driver of a tractor-trailer making a delivery to the store had a heart attack behind the wheel.

Andrea Gallagher, Acorn columnist and president of nonprofit Senior Concerns, noticed the big rig parked at an odd angle as she left the Westlake Boulevard location shortly after 9:30 a.m.

“As I went to see what was going on, I saw that the semi driver had his cab door open and was looking dazed,” Gallagher told The Acorn. “I asked him if he was OK and he told me, ‘No,’ and that he was having a heart attack.” It was then that she noticed the large truck had plowed into four cars parked in front of the store.

AFTERMATH—The truck comes to a halt after crashing into cars in front of the store. The driver was taken by ambulance to the hospital. RICHARD GILLARD/Acorn Newspapers

AFTERMATH—The truck comes to a halt after crashing into cars in front of the store. The driver was taken by ambulance to the hospital. RICHARD GILLARD/Acorn Newspapers

While another bystander called 911, Gallagher had the driver, Jose Mendez, shut off the engine and then she and another good Samaritan helped him out of the cab and to the ground.

TEAM—Teresa Johnson and Yoshio Ruiz-Almaraz were at the scene and helped the driver. BECCA WHITNALL/Acorn Newspapers

TEAM—Teresa Johnson and Yoshio Ruiz-Almaraz were at the scene and helped the driver. BECCA WHITNALL/Acorn Newspapers

At the same time, Bed Bath & Beyond employee Martha Mayan rushed out to help. Mayan, a general staff member, started speaking Spanish to the man, helping to keep him calm and urging him to stay conscious, Gallagher said. Mayan was joined by colleague Teresa Johnson and, later, Yoshio Ruiz-Almaraz.

Johnson, a nine-year employee of the store, said she didn’t have time to think as Mendez was going in and out of consciousness. She just acted on instinct.

“I went to him, bent down and saw his eyes roll back and the whole bit, and said, ‘OK, I’ve had CPR training twice’ and started compressions,” she said in an interview.

In the meantime, the woman who had dialed 911 handed off the call to Gallagher, who relayed information between the operator and Johnson.

When Ruiz-Almaraz came out of the store, he could tell Johnson was tired and offered to keep chest compressions going.

After a few moments, Mendez came to and witnesses said his first concern was whether he had hurt anyone when he crashed his truck.

“By that time, you could hear sirens, and we told him all he needed to do was lay there and hold on,” said Ruiz-Almaraz, who’s been working at the store for just over a year.

Mendez was taken to Los Robles Hospital and Medical Center. The witnesses said he was alert and breathing on his own at the time.

Gallagher said she is grateful for having CPR and first aid training at Senior Concerns, but that it was the store staff members who deserve the credit for saving the driver’s life.

“I’m in awe of their presence of mind,” she said. “Really, the three Bed Bath & Beyond employees are the heroes.”

Johnson said it feels “weird and awkward” to receive accolades in her role, but she’s glad she could be there to help.

“All in all, I’m so proud,” she said.

SAVE A LIFE

Every year, more than 350,000 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests occur in the United States, and nearly 90 percent of people who suffer them die, according to the American Heart Association.

“CPR, especially if performed in the first few minutes of cardiac arrest, can double or triple a person’s chance of survival,” the organization says on its website, heart.org.

A number of local agencies offer CPR training. Among them is the American Red Cross. Find CPR classes online at redcross.org/take-a-class.