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Rialto councilman rescued after being stranded in the High Desert

A quadriplegic Rialto councilman, who is a former police officer, crashed his vehicle in a ditch in the High Desert and spent 11 hours unconscious before he was rescued Wednesday afternoon, authorities said.

Shawn O’Connell was driving north on the 15 Freeway in Devore about 2 a.m. Wednesday when he suffered a back spasm, causing him to veer off the pavement and land in a 30-foot ditch about 50 yards from the roadway, according to police.

O’Connell, 45, who was headed to see a friend in the Victorville area, lost consciousness as cold set in and heavy winds buffeted his stranded vehicle, police said.

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Rialto police launched a search after they were alerted that the councilman had failed to arrive at his friend’s home, Rialto Police Department Capt. Randy De Anda said. Officers retraced O’Connell’s route but failed to find him.

After sunrise, a San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department helicopter and law enforcement search crews on the ground scoured the area. They too were unable to locate O’Connell.

About 1 p.m., O’Connell regained consciousness and tried to call police with his cellphone. He had no service, according to De Anda.

“He was miraculously able to drive his vehicle out of the ditch,” De Anda said, adding that the councilman was able to get three service bars on his phone and contacted Rialto police.

They advised him to call 911 so that dispatchers could triangulate his location using latitude and longitude signals from his phone. O’Connell was located and taken to Arrowhead Regional Medical Center in Colton, police said.

Police said he had lacerations on his face and non-life-threatening internal injuries, including a bruised kidney and fractured vertebrae.

“He had a very strong will to survive,” De Anda said.

O’Connell was a Rialto police officer for 12 years before retiring after sustaining an injury. He was elected to the City Council in November 2012.

Several years ago, he was involved in a crash on all-terrain vehicle that left left him a quadriplegic according to De Anda.

His has a custom vehicle with toggles and other devices that allow him to drive.

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Twitter: @LAJourno

robert.lopez@latimes.com


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