SONOMA COUNTY, Calif. (KTVU) - A 64-year-old Cazadero man, driving home on a drizzly Monday morning, got the surprise of his life.
A 35-40 pound rock, about the size of a cinder block, crashed through his windshield, landing in the seat next to him.
"It came from a steep slope, a slide area," explained CHP Officer Edward Blanco, who patrols the Russian River area.
Blanco showed KTVU the 40-foot high cliff where the piece of shale, soaked by rain, broke loose and became a projectile.
"All of a sudden, a crash into his car and he thinks he's getting hit head-on," described Ofc. Blanco, "and so he swerves to his right to avoid what he thinks is another car, and hits a tree."
Crashing into the tree along Cazadero Highway wiped out the front of the man's Honda, and deployed his airbag.
Only then did he realize what hit him.
"He looked over and saw a rock as a passenger!," marveled Blanco.
Another driver and an off-duty fireman stopped and called for help. Everyone who responded to the scene and saw the gaping hole in the windshield and the two by two foot boulder, couldn't believe what a close call it was.
"It was a good size rock, and solid, no mud to it," Monte Rio Fire Chief Steve Baxman told KTVU. "It's very fortunate it hit on the empty passenger side."
A few inches, or seconds, made all the difference.
"There's no way you can anticipate that, it just happens," observed Officer Blanco. "A little bit faster, and it might have gone through the drivers side. It was definitely enough to probably kill him if he was hit."
The driver complained of chest pain, and was taken by ambulance to Sonoma West Medical Center in Sebastopol, the nearest hospital.
"He actually came out of it just fine, no major injuries, and he went home," Dr. Bruce Deas told KTVU in the Emergency Department.
The man's discomfort was from being hit by the airbag.
"I think the airbag was more of an issue, for his injuries, than the rock itself. He was pretty lucky," concluded Dr. Deas.
The driver was also lucky that his collision with the tree, while jarring, kept him from launching into Austin Creek at forty miles an hour.
Rain was moving through the area when the accident happened, and west Sonoma County is one of the Bay Area's wettest regions.
Certainly other saturated rock slopes are ready to give way, but Monday's outcome was a fluke, and about as fortunate as one could get.
"It's Cazadero, rainiest place in the county, and the only place with more is Boulder Creek in Santa Cruz," explained Officer Blanco.
KTVU asked to interview the driver, but he was too tired, he said, and camera-shy to talk about what happened.