When the family minivan careened into a freezing lake, 12-year-old Oliber Pereyra could have crawled through his window to safety. But the rest of his loved ones were trapped, so he sprang into action!
Oliber Pereyra’s Story
Mercedes Feliz carefully steered the Honda Odyssey along the rural South Dakota highway.
She and her 12-year-old son, Oliber Pereyra, had come from New Jersey to visit her grown daughters, Silvia and Rocio. The family, along with Mercedes’ grandchildren, Dylan, 5, and Adriel and Riley, both 4, had set out to shop.
Suddenly, a large rock loomed on the roadway, coming into sight too late for Mercedes to avoid it.
“No!” she gasped as the minivan lurched then careened off the highway and landed in the lake that bordered the road.
The windows were closed, but water flooded in.
We have to get out! Mercedes thought. The engine had stalled, but, miraculously, when she pressed the button, the front windows slid open.
Quickly, she scrambled out.
“You first,” Mercedes instructed Silvia, who had been sitting behind her. Meanwhile, Oliber, who was in the front passenger seat, called 911. He looked behind him and saw his nephews and niece clutching his sister Rocio, who was frozen in panic.
So, instead of climbing through his window to safety, Oliber wriggled into the back seat and hit the window button. The glass slid partway down before the power died.
Please, let there be enough space to get out, Oliber prayed.
Quickly, he began unbuckling seat belts. Then, he eased Dylan through the window. “Hold onto the car!” he instructed. Next he helped Adriel. But by the time Oliber got Riley and Rocio out, Dylan and Adriel had drifted several feet — and were facedown!
Oliber was not a strong swimmer, but he squeezed himself through the window opening and headed toward the boys. “Got you!” he gasped, clutching Dylan, as Mercedes swam up and grabbed Adriel.
The water was so cold, Oliber couldn’t feel his legs and feet, but he hung on to Dylan with one arm, frantically paddling with the other.
“Keep going!” he urged the others. As the group made their way toward shore, the water topped the minivan, and then it was gone.
As the family struggled up a rocky incline, EMTs arrived and rushed them to the hospital to be checked.
A Happy Ending
Dylan was released after two days; Adriel was home a week later. The others were all fine.
“Thanks to you,” Silvia and Rocio said, hugging Oliber.
The South Dakota Highway Patrol agreed and presented him with a Life Saver Award.
“Oliber is both my son and my hero,” Mercedes beams.
“It was scary,” Oliber admits. “But they’re my family. I couldn’t let anything bad happen to them.”
A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.