DOWNEY, Calif. (AP) -- Trapped for days in a crashed van as traffic whizzed by only a few feet away, Lee Risler got so desperate he tried to cut off his pinned hand with a pocketknife.
Risler's van veered off Interstate 605 and overturned in a ditch around 3 a.m. Saturday. The 53-year-old sandal maker spent the next 2 1/2 days stuck there, his left arm was trapped outside the van, between the door and some trees.
Risler was freed around noon Monday when a California Department of Transportation worker spotted his 1991 Ford hidden by trees a few yards off the freeway, about 15 miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles.
Risler complained of a tremendous thirst and was bleeding from the hand, but he was coherent, rescue workers said. He told them he began cutting at the wrist and fingers of his left hand, struggling to get free.
''He did more damage to his arm than the accident,'' said Downey Fire Department Battalion Chief Chuck Seely told the Los Angeles Times in today's editions. ''This guy was definitely in desperation.''
Rescue workers rushed Risler to the St. Francis Medical Center in Lynwood, where he was in fair condition late Monday, said hospital spokeswoman Lisa Ciccanti.
Risler was driving from his high desert home in Lucerne Valley to sell sandals at a craft fair in Hermosa Beach when the accident occurred. Investigators did not immediately determine Monday why his van left the highway.
Risler's wife, Bryn Risler, said family members went to the Hermosa Beach show and wondered where Risler was. They even called the Highway Patrol.
''I knew he was hurt,'' Bryn Risler said.
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