ENCINO — Todd Bridges, the 35-year-old former star of the TV sitcom "Diff'rent Strokes," helped save a paraplegic woman from drowning Thursday afternoon when her motorized wheelchair accidentally rolled into Lake Balboa, according to the victim and authorities at the Department of Recreation and Parks.
Stella Kline, 50, who fishes regularly at Lake Balboa Park, said her electric chair lurched into the 27-acre lake at about 1 p.m. after her fishing line got caught on the chair's joystick.
Though the water was only about 18 inches to a yard high, Kline, said, she was buckled into the heavy chair, which tilted on its side and forced her head underwater.
The former child star--whose run-ins with the law and troubles with drugs made him a tabloid news staple in the mid-1980s and '90s--was fishing with family members a few feet away. Kline said Bridges immediately jumped in and pulled her and her chair out, with help from his brother James Bridges, 40.
"I was thankin' God that he was there," said Kline, a Reseda resident who was born in Tennessee. "And you know, everybody's been saying nothin' but bad stuff about Todd Bridges on the news and in the papers. . . . He has a heart of gold."
Lifeguards at Lake Balboa Park arrived after the brothers had lifted Kline out of the water.
"If it wasn't for Todd Bridges and his brother, she could have died," lifeguard Jaime Morado said Friday. "It was lucky for her that they assisted her."
Kline was treated and released from Northridge Hospital Medical Center, Fire Department officials said.
"We felt God put us there at the right time to save this lady's life, because there was no one else around," Todd Bridges said Friday. "When she turned sideways, part of her body was up, but her head was underwater."
James Bridges said he didn't think Kline would have been able to free herself from the chair. "That chair weighed a ton," he said.
On the popular series "Diff'rent Strokes," which aired from 1978 to 1986, Bridges and actor Gary Coleman starred as a pair of disadvantaged African American brothers who are cared for by a wealthy white family.
Bridges later had a number of run-ins with the law. In 1990, he was acquitted of the attempted murder of a Texas drug dealer. Three years later, he was arrested in the alleged stabbing of a tenant at his Sun Valley house, but prosecutors decided that he had acted in self-defense and did not file charges. He also pleaded guilty to separate drug and weapons charges that year.
In 1997, he was arrested on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon, having allegedly rammed a friend's car with his vehicle after an argument.
No charges were filed, according to the Los Angeles district attorney's office.
Todd Bridges' mother, Betty Bridges, 59, said Friday that her son has been clean and sober for eight years.
"We've had eight years to get ironed out," she said. "This is just a part of what he is today--he's just a good human being."
Kline said she didn't recognize the actor at first, but was told who he was by paramedics as they were loading her into the ambulance: "I said, 'Todd Bridges? Who?' They said, 'That's the one who played Willis on 'Diff'rent Strokes.' "
"I was a huge fan!" Kline said.