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N.M. man rescued after mom spots truck in ravine

He fell asleep behind the wheel; injured, he made a phone call to a friend but when that friend couldn't find him, it was mom who knew where to look

By Martha Mauritson
Carlsbad Current-Argus

CARLSBAD, N.M. — A Carlsbad man counts himself very fortunate this week: Except for being severely bruised all over, he safely survived a fall of around 100 feet when his pickup truck went off the road and down a cliff in the Rocky Arroyo area on Sunday night.

Cory Lemon is grateful that his life was spared and that highly skilled rescue and emergency medical personnel came to his aid quickly.

"Somebody was looking over me," he says, pointing skyward in thanks to God.

But the person who hurried unerringly to the spot where Lemon lay injured below was his mother, Carlsbad resident Valerie Cranston.

And it would indeed seem that a mother's instinct helped Cranston find her lost child in the dark night on a deserted road.

"I dozed off ... ."

Lemon said he makes the drive from Carlsbad to Queen several times a month. He goes to help a friend work on a getaway cabin he is building.

On Sunday night, March 16, Lemon was tired because it had been a busy day. But when he left at about 5:30 p.m., he took the trash as usual so he could stop and drop it at the trash units in the little community of Queen.

As he started down the Queen highway, he found himself yawning and his eyelids getting heavy. He rolled the windows down in his 4x4 Dodge Ram pickup, but after a few miles, he again found his eyes wanting to close.

Another 8 to 10 miles had passed when it happened:

"I dozed off; it was right there in Rocky Arroyo," he said.

He woke up when the wheels on the passenger side of his truck went off the pavement and rattled through the gravel shoulder.

When he tried to turn back to the left, his wheels skidded in the gravel. Suddenly, the wheels found some traction.

"It just shot me right across that two-lane highway," he said.

"That's when the wild ride started."

The truck went airborne, and the first time it hit the rocks, Lemon was knocked unconscious.

From what he recalls, and from the condition of the truck, it seems to have hit three or four times.

When it hit a boulder as big as a truck, it came to a final stop.

"When I opened the door, I fell out of the truck," he said. "I just laid on the ground, getting my bearings."

It seemed like an eternity

Lemon found that his cell phone was not in the pocket where he always carried it. Dragging himself back to the truck, he found the phone on the passenger-side floor. He called his friend in Queen and told him where the wreck took place, but it seemed like an eternity before he saw his friend's vehicle driving back and forth on the highway far above him.

Lemon looked about for a way to signal, but he was too weak to shout, and all his truck lights were broken out.

Then he saw that he had again left the phone inside the truck. A high vehicle already, the truck was now wedged even higher up against the boulder.

"And the way I was hurting, I couldn't get inside to get (the phone)."

Back in Carlsbad

Although it was late, back in Carlsbad Lemon's mom was not sleeping.

"Cory had not called," she recalled. "He always called when he came in from a weekend out at Queen."

And that Sunday held another reason she expected Lemon to call: It was Craig Cranston's birthday, and he always got a birthday call from his step-son.

When Lemon's friend called, Valerie Cranston felt her worst premonition had come true, and she and her husband hit the road to Rocky Arroyo.

As Lemon expected, the Cranstons knew where to focus their search because of the location he had given in the one phone call to his friend.

And the road was well-known to Lemon and his mother because they had lived in the area when he was very young.

A mother's instinct

Valerie Cranston said she knew at once that Lemon was nearby. So with a huge flashlight in hand, she asked Craig Cranston to drive slowly along the roadside close to the arroyo.

It wasn't too long until she spotted some tire marks and the vegetation they had flattened, and her reaction was immediate.

"I just screamed at Craig to stop," she said.

"I said, 'He's down there, he's there."

Craig Cranston and Lemon's friend hurried down into the deep arroyo, at one point sliding on the seat of their pants down a big patch of loose rocks.

When Craig Cranston saw Lemon, he shouted at his wife to call 911.


When the Cranston vehicle stopped on the road above, it was around 10 p.m., Lemon said.

"I remember Mom hollering my name, but my chest hurt so much I didn't have the strength to respond."

Then his friend and his step-father were beside him.

"They got down to me and tried to get me to lie down," Lemon said.

But in pain and suffering a blow or blows to the head, he was not completely aware of what they wanted.

"I gotta get out of here," he thought.

The two men kept Lemon still as much as possible until emergency crews arrived.

Lemon was lying on the ground when he saw red lights above. First to arrive were the EMTs from Happy Valley Volunteer Fire Department. Then EMS from Carlsbad showed up.

The six rescuers hurried down to Lemon and began the task of getting him up to the roadway.

While some strapped him to a back-board stretcher, others started him on an IV and still others rigged a pulley system to help get him out.

As the rescuers worked, an Eddy County Sheriff's deputy and a patrolman from the New Mexico State Police showed up.

The two asked Lemon to tell them what had happened -- what he could remember when he went over the edge.

He thought the truck had hit three boulders, finally being halted by the fourth one.

Both air bags deployed, but the windshield looked as if he had taken it out with his head.

Safe at last

After he was lifted to the waiting ambulance, Lemon relaxed with the thought that it would be taking him to the hospital.

But just a short ride brought them to a helicopter in the middle of the road.

Smoother than a vehicle, in a few minutes the helicopter had Lemon at Carlsbad Medical Center. It was around 1 or 2 a.m. on Monday.

By Tuesday afternoon, he was able to go to home from the hospital.

On Wednesday he was out of the casual sweat pants and shirt and into jeans and a shirt -- his usual daily wear.

In looking back at the incident that could have been so much worse, Lemon marveled at two things.

The first was the professionalism, the care and the concern of the emergency personnel.

"Those guys were great," he said. "They would have hurt themselves to get me out of there."

And the second marvel?

"Leave it to Mom to see my two tire tracks and the grass mashed down," he said.

Those small clues validated the feelings Valerie Cranston had that her son was nearby.

"No matter how old they are," she said, "they are still your child."

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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