By Don Chaddock, InsideCDCR editor
Photo by Lt. Arnel Bona, Deuel Vocational Institution
Two Deuel Vocational Institution (DVI) Correctional Officers are credited with saving a man’s life after he suffered a major heart attack and ran his car off the road in Elk Grove.
Correctional Officers John Farnetti and Chad Painter were on their way to work the swing shift at DVI on Oct. 31 when they spotted a vehicle in the middle of a field off Interstate 5.
They pulled over and Officer Farnetti hopped the four-foot high barbed-wire fence. Meanwhile, Officer Painter attempted to flag down help on the freeway.
“Here was a car in the middle of a field where a farmer’s truck with hay should be,” Officer Farnetti recalled. “It just didn’t look right.”
Officer Painter agreed.
“There was a Honda Civic in the middle of an open field with the windshield wipers moving back and forth and we could see some kind of steam coming from the vehicle,” he said. “When we pulled over, it was a sprint to the car. My partner found a spot to climb the fence while I called 911.”
When Officer Farnetti approached the car, he noticed the air bags had deployed. Inside was a man slumped over and only semi-conscious.
Despite efforts to flag down help, no one stopped.
“My partner was doing jumping jacks, basically, trying to get someone to stop and help,” Officer Farnetti said. “We were about 50 or 60 yards from the freeway in this desolate field so everyone could see us. It’s kind of sad no one stopped.”
Officer Painter said it was very discouraging.
“I was jumping up and down, trying to get somebody to pull over to assist,” he said. “About then, Officer Farnetti got to the vehicle and yelled, ‘There’s somebody in here.’ That’s when I went at a full sprint and hopped the fence.”
The two found the car’s doors were locked so they tried to get the man’s attention.
“I was banging on the car to keep him alert and we could see he was breathing,” Officer Painter said. “We thought he was in shock.”
The victim didn’t respond. The officers tried gaining access another way and Officer Farnetti knew time was valuable.
“When I first came up to the car, I could see a little movement and he was still breathing. When I was looking for something to break the window, there was nothing but plots of dirt and dried up cow patties, it was like a scavenger hunt,” he said. “I didn’t want to take the time to go back to my car, because it was too far away.”
Officer Painter said he tried everything to get in the car.
“We started looking around to find something to break the window. I was throwing dirt clods and keys at the window trying to break it,” Officer Painter recalled. “Then my partner found this rock and threw it through the window.”
With the window broken, they unlocked the doors and pulled the man out of the car and found the victim had stopped breathing.
“My partner did CPR until he got exhausted, then I took over,” Officer Painter said. “We were yelling and screaming and trying to keep the victim alert. When we pulled him out of the vehicle, we couldn’t find a pulse. We think he basically flat-lined and died. Then he kept gasping between CPR (efforts). We were pulling him back.”
The officers took turns performing CPR until paramedics arrived. The paramedics asked Officer Painter to continue CPR while they readied the defibrillator. After paramedics gave him a shock with the defibrillator, the victim was transported to the hospital.
Keeping in contact
The two Correctional Officers headed to work and finished their shifts but wanted to know what happened to the man they pulled from the car.
They visited the hospital and were told the man, Carlos Robles, had suffered a massive heart attack and was in the intensive care unit following emergency heart surgery.
The Correctional Officers continue to be in touch with the man and his family. According to hospital staff, if the officers hadn’t stopped to help, he probably would have died alone in the middle of the field. Mr. Robles is expected to make a full recovery and his family appreciates the effort of the officers.
“We are so grateful God put them on that freeway at that moment,” said his step-daughter, Claudia Martinez. “Now my step-dad is alive because of them.”
The heart attack happened only four days before Mr. Robles’ birthday. Both officers paid him a visit in the hospital on his birthday.
“It was special,” said Officer Farnetti.
Robles’ step-daughter said the family was thankful for the care shown by the officers.
“The fact they took the time to come visit him in the hospital to see how he was doing means a lot to our family,” said Martinez. “Officer Painter spoke to me and said my step-dad was in his prayers. That meant so much to me.”
Officer Farnetti said they’ve exchanged addresses and are planning a get-together when Mr. Robles is feeling up to such activity.
Officers advise others to stop and help
“Maybe if his car was upside down or if his car was on fire, they would have stopped,” Officer Farnetti said. “People must have thought, since his tires were on the ground, he was OK. But you never know until you check. Semi-trucks were just honking and no one was stopping.”
Officer Farnetti said it was surprising no one helped, considering it was in the middle of the day in a wide-open field with hundreds of vehicles passing by on the interstate.
“As we’re dragging this limp body out of a car it was 1 p.m., daylight, so everybody could see. I don’t know what they were thinking,” he said. “It was really bizarre to us no one was stopping. We’re the kind of people who stop.”
Officer Painter echoed his statement.
“If you see something that doesn’t look right, doesn’t feel right, pull over and help,” he said. “I would never have imagined people wouldn’t stop. To know we were given an opportunity to help is priceless. John and I are both men of faith so to be able to do God’s work, what an amazing experience to be able to save a life, to be able to give back.”
Officer Farnetti said for them to pass by at just the right moment was more than coincidence.
“We feel like we were there at the right time to help this guy because nobody else was going to help,” he said.
Officer Painter said CPR is a valuable skill everyone should learn.
“There were so many different emotions during the incident. You never think you’re going to have to apply your training,” Officer Painter said. “I think all of us should be certified in CPR and first aid. It’s one thing to do it in the prison walls because it’s our job, but to do it outside, it’s such a gift, to save a loved one.”
Officer credits the other with taking the lead
“It was a very surreal experience. Everything was like in slow motion,” said Officer Painter. “For us to be there at that time, to preserve a life, is something beyond words. Our training kicked in.”
Officer Painter calls his partner heroic.
“My partner, what a hero,” he said. “To be a part of something like that with John Farnetti, to see him in that situation, it leaves me speechless.”