Reports of an erratic driver quickly changed into 9-1-1 calls of a vehicle in the canal at McHenry and Meyers on Wednesday morning ... and Escalon resident Robert Adams owes his life to a couple of men who risked their own to save him.

Adams, 54, a diabetic, reportedly went into insulin shock, which caused him to lose control of his truck and veer off  the roadway, taking out a utility pole and plunging into the irrigation canal. As his truck was dipping into the water,   Escalon resident Rod Small and Steve Dillman of Ripon sprang into action.

"I was driving southbound on McHenry approaching Meyers and I saw some power lines arcing," Small, a former volunteer firefighter for Escalon, remembered. "There was a truck and two other vehicles in front of me, then in front of them, I saw the water spray." Small quickly realized what had happened; the wires arcing were due to the pole being snapped and the water spray occurred when the truck went into the canal.

Small pulled off and made his way to the canal bank, seeing Steve Dillman doing the same from the other side of the road. "The vehicle came up close to the bank," Small explained of Adams' truck. "The hood of the truck was dipping down, then it spun out in the current.

Working together, Small and Dillman were able to get to Adams, who was conscious but disoriented, and worked to get him free from the truck, pulling him out through the back window. "Steve and I hopped in the back of the pickup, we pulled him out and got out of the water," Small said. "Once the vehicle entered the water, he only had three to four minutes for it to stay up."

Several other motorists stopped to help in anyway they could and Escalon police, fire and ambulance crews also responded to the scene, in addition to the CHP with the crash occurring just before 8 am on Wednesday April 8, 2009.   "It happened pretty fast," Small admitted of the rescue.   By the time Steve and I got to him,  he (Adams) had turned himself and was making his way to the back of the vehicle.

Adams escaped with only minor injuries, including a laceration to his left hand, some cuts and bruises.   He was taken to Memorial Medical Center where he had the chance to personally thank both his rescuers when the men gathered in his hospital room for a meeting and photos on Thursday evening.

Small said he didn't  think about anything except getting Adams out of the truck as the situation unfolded; his previous training just kicked in. "l feel proud that I was taught how to do it and what to do, how it all came together in the water" he said of having some water rescue training through the Escalon Fire Department.  "I knew what I needed to do."

For Dillman, who was northbound on McHenry when he saw the accident in front of him and also reacted instinctively. I could not just sit there; I had to get involved," Dillman said. "I really feel like Rod is the true hero, he had some type of training, I'm glad I could be there to help."

Dillman added that he did think of what could happen when he decided to get involved, buy any fears for himself were outweighed by Adams' need for assistance.  He was also pleased to have the chance to meet him at the hospital the following evening. "Seeing his family' his grandkids there, it was very moving," Dillman said. "This was the biggest event that's ever happened to me was life-changing."

Emergency personnel hailed the two men as heroes, no doubt saving Adams' life. His truck disappeared under the water and floated some 200 to 300 feet downstream just seconds after he was pulled from the vehicle. "ln this day and age, with all the bad news, here's something that's a good thing," said Escalon Community Ambulance Chief Mike Pitassi'.   "This was very cool ... the average guy doing what they know is right."

Pitassi said Small and Dillman read the situation perfectly, knowing that Adams couldn't get out alone. "They knew he wasn't going to survive and they took their shot," Pitassi said. "They risked a lot jumping was a life and death situation and they really hung it out there for this guy.  That puts a lump in my throat when I see that.

(Courtesy of the Escalon Times newspaper)

Duo Save Man's Life
By Marg Jackson

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Rescuers Steve Dillman, left, of Ripon and Rod Small of Escalon flank Escalon resident Robert Adams, as the three met in Adams' hospital room on Thursday evening. The two men pulled Adams out of his truck as it sank in an irrigation canal south of Escalon early Wednesday morning.       (Contributed Photo)
McHenry Ave. at Meyers where the accident occurred.

By Jennie Rodriguez
Record Staff Writer
April 09, 2009

ESCALON - Two passing motorists saved the life of a 54-year-old diabetic on Wednesday morning, after they witnessed the disoriented man drive his pickup into a power pole and then plunge into an irrigation canal.

"They actually jumped in the water and risked their own lives and saved him," said Angel Arceo, public information officer at California Highway Patrol's Stockton office. "It's a big canal, and it's got a current."

The highway patrol reported that Escalon resident Robert Adams was driving southbound on McHenry Road when he began having symptoms of insulin shock. Other drivers called Escalon police to report his erratic driving.

Before officers could respond to those calls, the 6-foot-3 Adams lost consciousness and control of his black Dodge Dakota pickup. His vehicle went airborne off McHenry Road, just south of Meyers Road, crashed into a pole and plummeted into a South San Joaquin Irrigation District canal, the CHP reported.

Rod Small, the owner of a small business, was on his way to his Modesto commercial vehicle painting shop when he saw the truck splash.

Small, a former Escalon volunteer firefighter, and Steve Dillman, a passer-by from Ripon, pulled their vehicles over to help Adams. "The guy didn't have a way out," Small, 44, said. "The vehicle was nosing down."

Adams was trapped and panicking, Small said.

Small said he removed some of his clothing to lighten his weight, grabbed a hammer from his tool box and dove into the water. Dillman also jumped into the canal to assist Small.

Small broke the pickup's rear window - the only window above water - and together the two men pulled Adams to shore.

Escalon police were the first emergency responders to arrive at the scene, while Adams was being removed from the sinking truck by the civilian rescuers.

Adams was taken by medical responders to Modesto Memorial Medical Center, where he received insulin medication and was in stable condition following treatment.

"Their actions, in my opinion, saved this individual's life," said Sgt. Milt Medeiros of Escalon Police Department.

Small, who until about a year ago was a volunteer firefighter for three years in Escalon, said he doesn't consider himself a hero.

"But it feels good that I applied the knowledge I learned to help save someone's life. I feel fortunate that I was in the position to help."

Dillman could not be reached for comment.

Contact reporter Jennie Rodriguez at (209) 943-8564 or

(Courtesy of  and the Stocton Record newspaper)