Above the Call

Calipatria prison employee saves coworker in wreck

Photos of a scarred head, a woman and man smiling, a crushed car and a helicopter at an accident scene.
Rosalie Cota and Sgt. Tim Vrooman, at right, are all smiles after she helped save him from a wreck. Upper left is the air ambulance, lower left is his healed skull fracture and center bottom is his smashed vehicle.

Crash survivor: ‘I owe her for saving my life’

By Lt. Ernesto Bustamante

In the early morning hours on Friday, Sept. 6, the lives of two individuals would be drastically changed.

While driving to work on Highway 111, Rosalie Cota came upon a huge cloud of dust blowing on the roadway, obscuring her vision, forcing her to slow down to a crawl. As the dust settled, Cota was able to see a vehicle on the opposite side of the road, flipped over and resting on the passenger side.

Without hesitation, Cota safely parked her car on the side of the road, dialing 911 as she rushed to the vehicle to evaluate the situation.

Upon reaching the vehicle, she saw one person, suspended by his seat belt, being smothered by the deployed airbag. The injured man yelled out for help so he could escape the vehicle. He handed her his utility knife so she could deflate the airbag. Cota immediately popped the airbag providing relief to the injured person. As she pulled the airbag away from him, she saw green pants and instinctively knew this man worked in law enforcement.

To help keep the injured person calm, Cota identified herself as working at Calipatria State Prison in the Parole Division. She asked if he was an officer. The injured man said he was Sgt. Tim Vrooman at Calipatria State Prison. He requested her assistance to get out of the vehicle.

Vrooman told her to break in the windshield. She tried to kick in the windshield several times, without success.

Cota knew she needed to get inside the vehicle and cut the seatbelt that was choking Sgt. Vrooman. The wreckage was mangled and compressed like an accordion, with limited space to move around. She was able to open the trunk and crawl in through the back of the vehicle, finally reaching him.

She remained calm even as she saw blood splattered throughout the vehicle. When she reached over to cut the seatbelt, she saw a pile of hair hanging from Sgt. Vrooman’s head and realized his head had been split open. Controlling the panic and shock that most people would have experienced at this point, Cota very gently placed his head back together and wrapped it with a blanket she found on the back seat.

Cota kept Sgt. Vrooman calm, talking with him for 40 minutes until first responders made it to the accident site. During this time no one else stopped to assist Cota, however, throughout this entire ordeal, she remained calm and soothing so that Sergeant Vrooman would not go into shock.

According to authorities, Sgt. Vrooman suffered life threatening injuries and may have succumbed to them had it not been for the heroic actions of Cota.

He was airlifted to a regional hospital. Sgt. Vrooman suffered four broken ribs, a skull fracture requiring 25 staples to close and a punctured lung. Sgt. Vrooman said he is continuing to recover and working on his physical therapy daily. He said he’s grateful to Cota for her quick thinking and selfless acts.

“I have been driving on the same road for 14 years. This particular day I came across a flooded and muddy wash and I lost control of my vehicle. My vehicle rolled off the road. When it came to a stop, I was hanging there,” Sgt. Vrooman recalls. “I heard cars pass by and none stopped. I could feel the seat belt holding me up and began to reach around for my Leatherman tool. I reached up and felt a flap of my scalp and blood squirting out. I knew I had not lost consciousness but I didn’t know if I was going to be able to make it out before I bled out, that’s when Rosalie arrived. She is truly a blessing.

“Once I was in the helicopter, I began to feel the pain from my injuries. The nurse said my blood pressure was too low from the loss of blood to give me any pain medicine. Since the accident, Rosalie and I have remained in contact. I owe her for saving my life.”