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Trench Rescue an Act of Faith, Strength and Will

January 22, 1999|KARIMA A. HAYNES and KURT STREETER and T. CHRISTIAN MILLER | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

"Usually when we rescue someone, they are so afraid they freak out and end up even endangering the rescuer," said Franco. "But this guy was like Superman, he was so calm and had a special will to live. . . . That's part of the reason he's here today."

Speaking from Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills, Garcia recounted what had gone through his mind.

Alternating between Spanish and English, Garcia said he thought about his wife, Celena, and their three children. "Who will sustain them? Who will make my house payments?"

Fire officials said Garcia was not a passive victim, but played an active role in his own rescue.

Meanwhile, Celena Garcia had watched the drama unfold on television at her home in La Puente. Buntich, Garcia's employer, called moments earlier to tell her it was her husband of 14 years who was buried alive.

Through an interpreter, she said she did not go to the scene because she knew there was nothing she could do. "I always had faith in God that he would come out and be OK," she said, wiping tears. "The children felt everything would be OK."

Back at the accident scene, Garcia had continued to cling to life by breathing oxygen pumped through a garden hose and using his hard hat to keep dirt away from his face, fire officials said.

"It wasn't until the last second that we knew for sure that he would get out," said County Fire Capt. Larry Collins. "This guy escaped death over and over again last night. He cheated death at least a dozen times."

Times staff writers Julie Ha, Michael Luo and Patrick McGreevy contributed to this story.

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