Crews rescue woman who drove off cliff into the ocean

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A 54-year-old Santa Rosa woman who escaped her burning Volkswagen Beetle on the Sonoma Coast and swam into the ocean Tuesday morning may have intended to kill herself, according to the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office.

The Bodega Bay Fire Protection District responded to a call around 6 a.m. about someone who needed extrication from a vehicle that went over a cliff north of Coleman Beach, Fire Capt. Lou Stoerzinger said. 

Responders found a burning vehicle on a rock outcropping below a cliff and saw a woman, who escaped the vehicle through a window, treading water 50 to 75 yards off shore, Stoerzinger said.

Heath Lesik, a career firefighter who is trained in ocean rescue and volunteers for the Bodega Bay Fire Protection District, swam out to the woman and helped her ashore, Stoerzinger said.

"The funny thing is, right when I swam out to her she asked if I was okay," said Lesik. "She was responsive, compliant. I was able to hook her up to my buoy and tow her to safety. She said, 'Thank you very much. I'm sorry this happened." 

The Sonoma County Sheriff's Office's helicopter Henry 1 flew the woman to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital after she was treated by paramedics at the scene, Stoerzinger said. Firefighters doused the woman's burning vehicle.

The rescue took about 40 minutes. The Bodega Bay Volunteer Fire Department, Gold Ridge Fire Protection District, Monte Rio Fire Protection District, California Highway Patrol, U.S. Coast Guard and State Parks also responded to the rescue.

Sheriff's Sgt. Spencer Crum said sheriff's deputies and the California Highway Patrol believe the woman intentionally drove over the cliff near Coleman Valley Road and ran into the ocean in a suicide attempt.

The woman was placed on a mandatory mental health hold at the hospital, Crum said.

First responders say a suicide attempt doesn't change their mission, to save those regardless of how they got into the predicament.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 

KTVU's Rob Roth contributed to this report.