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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, March 8, 2010

Big Isle man's fast thinking saves life

Hawai'i Tribune-Herald

Derek Adkins went fishing Saturday evening, and while the fish weren't biting, he'll never forget what he did catch.

Adkins had secured his rod and reel atop the cliff at Hawaiian Beaches Shoreline Park, and was in his pickup keeping an eagle eye on the rod, hoping something would bite.

"I was parked on the side of the road, waiting in my truck with my girlfriend," Adkins said, when a "big blur" flashed by in his rearview mirror.

The blur looked like a Chevy Blazer, heading straight for the cliff, which rises about 25 feet out of the ocean. The vehicle never slowed down.

"Stay here," he told girlfriend Brittany Bridgeford before bolting toward the cliff.

It was just before 7 p.m., and the sun was pretty much gone. Stormy weather was churning the waves below, but the Chevy was clearly visible, about 20 feet from the cliff, upside down and smoking.

"I threw off my shoes and socks and jumped in," said Adkins, who turns 28 today. "I still had my wallet, cell phone, everything. There was no time for anything else."

Inside the Chevy was a woman who appeared to be in her mid-40s, Adkins said. "I got to working on the door," he said, using his legs for leverage to open it.

Two other men had followed Adkins, and one tried to break the window with a rock. but his thumb got in the way. Bleeding, the man let Adkins have at it. So Adkins grabbed another rock and broke the driver's side window.

The woman's feet were on the vehicle's roof, head barely above water.

The other man set to helping Adkins open the door while the other focused on keeping the woman's head above water.

"Two of us pried open the door," said Adkins, who freed the woman by cutting her seat belt. "I always carry a knife with me," he said. "Fisherman," he added, by way of explanation.

Adkins and the two men were afraid to remove the woman for fear of hurting her. Firefighters arrived and were able to extricate the woman.

"They gave her one big yank, and stuck her in a basket, and the helicopter took her to the park," Adkins said.

The woman apparently suffered few injuries.

"She was actually up and walking, amazingly," said Adkins, who lives on Puhi Street not far from the scene.

Adkins' uncle called the Hawai'i Tribune-Herald Saturday night to brag about his nephew's exploits.

"He saved that chick's life," said Darren Mertz.

Adkins is glad he was there, and happy to share credit.

"The two other fellows there, I didn't get their names, but they definitely were a big help, keeping her coherent, focused, head above water," Adkins said.