A man who stopped to help a crashed driver on the Pine Valley Creek Bridge fell to his death Wednesday while trying to avoid another crash, California Highway Patrol said.
Robert Verlin Bruno, Jr. was found dead under the East County San Diego bridge, one of the highest in the U.S., after a daring search by rescuers using a helicopter.
CHP said Bruno, 48, stopped to help a driver in a Chevy pick-up truck who spun out on a patch of ice on westbound I-8 and crashed into the bridge’s railing sometime before 5:10 a.m.
Moments later, another truck swerved to avoid the first crash and collided with a Kia Sorento. A fourth car then slammed into the back of the Kia, CHP said.
In an attempt to avoid the oncoming cars, Bruno ran to the side of the bridge and jumped over the rail, CHP said. He did not survive the fall.
Officers on scene initially thought the good Samaritan, who was driving a Subaru, may have crashed into the spun-out truck and been ejected from the vehicle.
Officers later learned Bruno had stopped to help the stranded driver.
His body was found in a snow-covered canyon under the Pine Valley Creek Bridge by a chopper that was weaving through support beams during the search.
While the chopper spotted Bruno just before 7 a.m., crews were still coming up with a plan to retrieve the body hours later.
People at Major’s Coffee Shop in Pine Valley told NBC 7 they know all about the dangers on the highway when freezing temperatures hit.
Debi McNamer, owner of Major’s Coffee Shop, said she’s been driving around town at 5 mph to avoid sliding on the icy roads.
She and others at the coffee shop were heartbroken to learn about what happened to the good Samaritan.
“It brings tears to your eyes,” McNamer said. “You just think, ‘Wow.’ Somebody helping a neighbor, a stranger they didn’t know, trying to be a good Samaritan and they’re killed because of it.”
The other victims involved in the crash, including a 4-month-old infant, were all believed to be accounted for, firefighters said. Only minor injuries were reported but medics did transport one person to the hospital.
The crash on the bridge leading to and from the desert happened after about a week’s worth of rain and snow from three separate storm systems.
At 450 feet tall, the Pine Valley Creek Bridge is the 11th highest bridge in the U.S., according to World Atlas.
While rain had cleared Wednesday morning, forecasters warned that roads would remain icy for several more days.
CHP said conditions on the bridge at the time of the crash were foggy, icy and snowy.
A CHP officer told an NBC 7 News crew the bridge conditions were so unsafe reporters could not be on it.
Caltrans crews dumped a truckload of sand to de-slick the roadway enough to remove the vehicles after the crashes. During, traffic was reduced to one lane on westbound I-8.
Bruno was from Jacumba, California, about 75 miles away from San Diego.