It happened so fast that Warren Levine had no time to react.
He was driving back to Bellingham about 4:25 a.m. Aug. 11, after a night of watching the Perseid meteor shower at Artist Point. As he descended a steep part of the Mount Baker Highway away from the scenic mountain lookout, clouds obscured his vision and he sailed over the edge, his 2007 Prius rolling and tumbling some 250 feet off a cliff.
“It was a super nice evening, but this big puffy white cloud came down. It made the road slick,” Levine said during an interview at his Cordata-area home. “As I was making a turn on the switchback, I slipped over the side. It skidded first and then went into a roll. I was amazed at how quickly the road glazed.”
He’s lucky he was found, alive.
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The phone was broadcasting a GPS signal. That’s how they found me, you couldn’t see me from the road.
Warren Levine, Bellingham
“I came to rest on a slate cliff and the tree. It was, I believe, another 50 feet down. When I saw (pictures) for the first time, I couldn’t believe how it was hanging there,” said Levine, 61, who moved to Bellingham with his wife from Colorado in 1999 and ran Whatcomputers repair business.
Levine’s rescue caught the attention of television news in Seattle after The Bellingham Herald published a story Aug.12. He spent three days in the hospital, and has been recuperating at home, his 5-11, 280-pound body still sore and covered with bruises. He sometimes is groggy and suffers headaches.
With the Prius upside down, Levine lay on the roof in the back seat, surrounded by dirt and debris, various items from his car and coins that scattered from his Tzedekah, a container that Jews use to collect money to assist those in need.
“The seat belt was intact and buckled,” Levine said. “I have buckle bruises on my hip, but the worst was from being pulled over the headrest. I was yanked out of my seat belt.”
He lay in the wreckage, dazed and barely conscious in the predawn darkness, wondering what to do next. Then he saw his cellphone, which had been on the dashboard in front of him.
I’ll never get another car than a Prius. That thing saved my life.
Warren Levine, Bellingham
“The car was inverted, so it landed on the ceiling next to me,” Levine said. “The phone was broadcasting a GPS signal. That’s how they found me; you couldn’t see me from the road. I had three bars of service. I don’t even get that at my house. It was quite lucky.”
He heard voices and saw flashlights about 30 minutes after dialing 911.
Firefighters from Whatcom County Fire District 14 found Levine’s car near milepost 51.5, just below the Mt. Baker Ski Area and nearly 20 miles east of Glacier, the nearest town.
The all-volunteer crew often is summoned for such rescues outside their service area, said Chief Ben Thompson.
Firefighters stabilized the car by securing it to an uphill tree with rope. Then they rigged a simple pulley system to raise Levine, loading him into a Whatcom County Medic One ambulance about 7 a.m.
Levine was ticketed for driving too fast for conditions, Washington State Patrol Sgt. Mark Francis said.
“It seemed like forever, but not as long as the ambulance ride to the hospital – it’s 50 miles,” said Levine, who expressed gratitude for everything except the loss of his new Denver Broncos jacket, which emergency workers had to cut off his body. But mostly, he loves his little Prius.
“I’ll never get another car than a Prius. That thing saved my life. The whole passenger compartment was intact. Not one of the pillars was bent.”
He bought a new one, a 2013 model, just last week.