Tuesday, Feb. 4, would prove a very important day in the life of Marcus Austin, a Caltrans equipment operator II, who was heading home on Highway 74 at about 7 a.m. between Mountain Center and Palm Desert after working the night shift. A set of skid marks caught his attention prompting Austin to pull off the road to investigate. The skid marks, he recalled, were not there the night before.
Looking over the side he noticed a pick-up truck lying on its side some 200 feet below. Cell reception is difficult in the area, so the quick-thinking Austin flagged down a driver, instructed the men to call 911 and provided them with the location (via mile marker) to send assistance. As Austin returned to the site of the truck, he heard cries for help. According to Shelli Lombardo, Caltrans maintenance and public information officer, Austin, despite the dangerous, steep terrain, made his way to the injured man.
Scott Firth of Anza lay outside his vehicle that, as Firth explained, had cart-wheeled down the mountain after he swerved to avoid a driver who had crossed the center line. Firth had been in the ravine since 8 o-clock the night before and felt as though his leg, back and arm were broken. Wearing only a thin jacket and a beanie, Austin covered Firth’s bare feet with a sweater he found in the truck and made his way back up to the highway to watch for the arrival of emergency vehicles. As Austin made his way up the ravine, the two men he had flagged down earlier had returned to lend whatever assistance they could. One of the men made his way down to the ravine to bring a blanket to Firth while they waited for assistance. Firth was airlifted to a regional hospital. His condition is unknown as of this writing.
Austin’s supervisor, Jody Mueller, thanked Austin who replied, “Anyone would have done the same thing.”
Incidents like the one that brought Austin and Firth together are, unfortunately, fairly frequent; this was the third time in two years that Keen Camp employees have found a car over the side. “It is imperative that you stop and investigate skid marks, even if they look old, when working on mountain highways. It only takes a moment to check and possibly save a life,” said Lombardo.