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Idaho Cliff Crash Hero Describes Rescue: 'I Had to Get Him Out'

Jason Warnock ran up a highway and over a pedestrian bridge to reach a driver who crashed his SUV and was dangling on the edge of a cliff in Idaho.
/ Source: NBC News

A construction worker who rescued a man from his sport-utility vehicle as it dangled precariously over the edge of an Idaho cliff says he didn't hesitate.

"I knew I had to get him out of the car," Jason Warnock, 29, told NBC News on Thursday, a day after the dramatic rescue.

Warnock was in Lewiston, driving on Bryden Canyon Road below the crash, at around 8 a.m. when he saw a log on the road. Looking up, he saw a 2000 GMC Yukon teetering over the edge of the 30-foot drop — held in place by a chain link fence. He ran up the road and to a pedestrian bridge to reach the vehicle.

He was wearing heavy work boots. "I didn’t think I was going to make it," Warnock said.

"I was going to break the window with one of my tools, but I was worried that the impact might push the car over the ledge," said Warnock, who lives in nearby Clarkston, Washington.

The driver, 23-year-old Mathew Sitko, eventually rolled down the passenger side window and Warnock was able to pull him to safety. The dramatic rescue was captured by a photographer for the Lewiston Morning Tribune newspaper.

Sitko was disoriented, and reaching for his music player, Warnock said.

"He just asked about his iPod, and then I was like, 'Give me your hand, you know, because if this thing goes I want to have a hold of you so I can yank you,'" Warnock said.

"He was pretty broke up in what he was saying but then he was like, 'I started reading the Bible last night.’ And I was like that’s awesome, you know, that's great. Great news," Warnock said.

"I think maybe God ... put me here at the right time, and he held you up here for sure for a reason," Warnock remembers telling the driver. "Maybe it’s meant to bring you closer to him," he told Sitko.

Lewiston interim police chief Roger Lanier said the accident was triggered by "some sort of mental or emotional episode" that Sitko was having. He was treated for minor injuries, police said.

"What he told the officers was he was literally driving along after dropping off his younger siblings for school, and he was listening to a song on the radio, and some lyrics in the song convinced him that it was essentially his time to die," Lanier said. "He just closed his eyes, took his hands off the wheel, and pressed the accelerator."

Warnock said he doesn’t want much attention for his efforts, which is why he left as soon as police arrived, not even giving the officer his name. They sat in the grass and chatted until police arrived.

"After I pulled him out I hugged him," Warnock said. "And we sat down and talked about the Bible."

Jason Warnock pulls the driver from a SUV Wednesday morning after the vehicle left Mayfair Drive in Lewiston and traveled downhill, stopped by a chain link fence just short of a vertical drop onto the Bryden Canyon Road.Barry Kough / Lewiston Tribune
— With Phil Helsel