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Hero bystander rescues teen from car submerged in water

"I started gasping for air," she said. "But it was just water."

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - This story has the all the components of a tragic action movie; a quiet Georgia road, a teenage girl and the crash that left her gasping for air as water filled the car around her. But in this real-world epic, a stranger jumped in to pull the Waycross teen from death’s grip.

Sofia Stokes, 17, just started her senior year at Ware County High School. On the morning of August 4, she was driving home from a friend’s house.

“I fell asleep behind the wheel,” Sofia said from her room at UF Health Jacksonville.

Sofia jolted awake when she crashed into a construction cone. She then overcorrected her mistake and crossed a car on the other side of the road, ultimately landing upside down in a water-filled ditch.

“I knew when I was going to get in the wreck, when I was flipping, I knew it was early in the morning and that nobody was gonna be on the road,” Sofia said. “So I didn’t think anybody would come [to help me].”

Alex Tiner, 23, was driving to work when Sofia’s car cut across his.

“Then I saw the car flip twice in the air, land down and then the car disappeared,” Tiner said.

Tiner pulled over.

“I come up on the car and all I can see is maybe this much of a tire,” he said.

Beneath the murky surface, Sofia’s overturned car filled with water.

“I started gasping for air,” she said. “But it was just water.”

Panicked and exhausted, Sofia awaited death and lost consciousness. Tiner and another bystander waded in. The two men pulled at the car’s doors and kicked and punched the windows.

“Finally feel my foot go through the window and the back door just opens up,” Tiner said. “And he’s reaching in and he tells me he’s got a foot.”

Tiner carried a lifeless Sofia to land.

“I stand up and look at her and she’s completely blue,” he said.

Tiner, who served in the Navy, started CPR.

“It was like she wanted to breathe but there was so much water,” Tiner said. “I flipped her to her side and I just started pounding on her back as hard as I could. And she spit up a bunch of water and she took that first breath and all of her color just came back.”

Tiner’s quick action saved Sofia’s life, buying her enough time to get to the hospital. The teen experienced some lung damage but otherwise escaped with bumps and bruises. Sofia was discharged from the hospital Monday.

“They’re like, ‘he did perfect CPR,’” Sofia’s mother, Carla Stokes, said from her daughter’s bedside. “Perfect CPR.”

It may be coincidence Tiner was driving to work that day; he never works on weekends. It may be coincidence the person who pulled over happened to know CPR.

Or maybe, it’s no coincidence at all.

“I’m a believer,” Eric Stokes, Sofia’s father, said. “And I know that under the circumstances it worked out perfect.”

“People always say ‘oh, you’re gonna be at the right place at the right time,’” Tiner said. “Before, no, that just wasn’t my way of thinking. But now, I mean, definitely. The whole scenario worked out how it was supposed to, I believe that.”

Sofia’s mother said two things saved her daughter; prayers and CPR. She encouraged everyone to learn CPR and get comfortable enough with the process that they would spring into action if ever needed.

To find a CPR training class near you, click here.