Picture Oscar De La Hoya, 24-year-old multimillionaire, alone on a dark freeway near midnight, his car hit by one runaway driver already, stuck in the fast lane in a stalled car one exit short of home.
The World Boxing Council welterweight champion has no trouble visualizing the scene, because last Sunday night, he was there: just another driver on the 605 Freeway near Whittier, with danger quickly approaching.
Calling it “10 seconds that saved my life,” De La Hoya jumped out of the stalled car--his brother’s new Mercedes--after searching for the cellular phone he almost always carries.
“When I realized I didn’t have my phone and couldn’t call for help, I just opened the door and ran across the freeway,” De La Hoya, who was not hurt, said Wednesday.
“And as soon as I got to the other side, this big truck came roaring down and totaled the whole car. When everything was over, I think six or seven cars all were smashed.
“Oh, man, if I had my phone with me and stayed in the car 10 more seconds, I would have been history.”
After police arrived on the scene, De La Hoya says it took him at least half an hour to calm down enough to give a statement.
“I was shaking so hard I couldn’t talk,” De La Hoya said. “I mean, I get nervous for fights, but I was shaking so hard. . . . I literally was kind of jumping up and down the whole time.”
Dena duBoef, De La Hoya’s publicist, says she spoke with De La Hoya soon after the incident and immediately knew he had been startled badly.
“He said he’d never been through anything like that,” said duBoef, who had photo shoots lined up for him with GQ and Men’s Fitness magazines this week. “I’ve never heard him like that before.”
The accident occurred at about 11:30 p.m., after De La Hoya, taking a break after defeating David Kamau on June 14, accepted an award at the Century Plaza earlier that evening. A limousine took him back to Whittier, but De La Hoya used his brother’s car to drop off a friend afterward.
As he was nearing his own home, De La Hoya says the Mercedes suddenly wouldn’t respond to the accelerator, dropping his speed from about 65 mph to about 40, with the steering wheel locking up moments later.
“That’s when cars started going past me real fast,” De La Hoya said. “I couldn’t move the car, and I’m thinking, ‘What am I going to do?’ I turned on the hazard lights and turned on the light inside so people could see I was there.
“Then I saw a car coming up so fast and I thought, ‘Oh, man, this guy’s going to hit me, he’s going to hit me!’ He rammed the car on the passenger side and just took off. When he hit me, I thought I was history until the car finally stopped moving up the fast lane.
“That’s when I looked for my cell phone, and thank God it wasn’t there.”
De La Hoya, who often credits his good fortune to his deceased mother, says he thought of her again Sunday.
“After I got out and I saw the accident,” said De La Hoya, who was scheduled to depart this week for a short vacation in Mexico, “I knew my mother was looking down on me for sure.”