A tanker truck carrying 5,000 gallons of milk collided with a car on the Orange Freeway on Wednesday, sending both vehicles over an embankment, where the truck crushed the car.
The driver of the car, Deborah Kan, 27, of Brea, suffered a broken pelvis, the California Highway Patrol said.
"None of us at the scene could believe that lady was not killed," CHP Officer Angel Johnson said. "She was very lucky."
The tanker had been traveling south at 40 m.p.h. on the freeway near Lambert Road about 8:20 a.m. when the driver, Honorio Orozco, saw the rush-hour traffic ahead and tried to slow down, Johnson said.
Orozco, 45, of Norwalk, rear-ended a car driven by Kan, Johnson said. Kan in turn hit a pickup truck, which then struck another car, the officer said.
The impact also caused the tanker and Kan's car to plunge down a 100-foot hill and crash through a chain-link fence and into a parking lot, officers said.
The container on the truck broke open, and milk poured onto the embankment and the parking lot, absorbed by the ground as it flowed.
Brea firefighters had to cut through metal to rescue Kan from the new car, which still had paper license plates, officers said.
She was in fair condition later at UCI Medical Center in Orange.
No one else was injured, and the California Highway Patrol has not cited anyone pending an investigation, Johnson said.
One lane of the southbound Orange Freeway was closed for about two hours while authorities cleared the accident, officers said.
"It didn't smell good out there," Johnson said. "The warmer it got, the more it gave off that milk odor."