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Bridge-jumping survivor, rescuers reunited as TV crews filmed
22-year-old may need back surgery
Officer Barry Edwards answers questions about the rescue of Bianca Vera, left, after Vera jumped off the Dawsonville Highway bridge to avoid a skidding truck earlier this month during an ice storm. - photo by Tom Reed

Bianca Vera walked into the fire station Monday with gift bags in hand, a microphone clipped to her shirt and a camera crew following behind.

Vera, 22, decided to thank the Gainesville firefighters and police officers who saved her after she took a daring 40-foot jump from the Dawsonville Highway bridge into Lake Lanier on Feb. 10.

"Inside Edition" reporters captured the hugs and smiles.

"These were the guys who got me out. They were the ones who saved my life," she said. "I've been excited since I found out I was going to meet them. I really wanted to do something to thank them."

Vera handed out seven red bags with koala bears on the front. The men quietly shuffled through the tissue paper and pulled out hats with "I'm a hero" printed on the front and the date of Vera's rescue embroidered on the side. They pulled on the hats and took pictures with Vera in Gainesville's new Fire Station 1 off Queen City Parkway.

"Out of everything that happened, the end result was good on everyone's behalf," said Jerome Yarbrough, the city's fire marshal. "We're just doing our job, and this is an ‘attaboy' for our guys."

On that icy morning, Vera slid into the guardrail and exited her car to check the damage. Seeing an oncoming truck driving her way, Vera jumped from the bridge and swam for almost an hour to reach the shore, she said. After rescue crews picked her up, she was hospitalized for hypothermia and a broken back.

Since she left the hospital, Vera hasn't had much rest. With camera crews and satellite trucks sitting outside of her home, she's told her story again and again to local news channels, "Good Morning America" and Fox News. On Wednesday, a CNN crew will take her back to the scene to reflect on her jump.

"It's been surreal to have everyone in my living room," Vera said Monday after the segment was filmed and the cameras were turned off. "People are recognizing me, too. We were at Walmart yesterday and someone asked if I was that girl who jumped off the bridge. Yeah, that's me."

When she leaped from the roadway, the media calls began rolling in at Gainesville's police and fire stations.

"It started for me around 6:40 that morning, when I got the call about what happened," Yarbrough said.

"Then media all over the nation started calling, first to check if someone really jumped, and then it escalated from there."

The calls continued last week as news outlets updated Vera's story once she left the hospital. On Thursday, officer Kevin Holbrook, one of the public information officers for the police department, appeared on a live Fox News broadcast to talk about the rescue.

"The national cover isn't too much different than the usual because this is what we're trained for," he said. "But you can tell some of these guys are nervous and would prefer not to be on camera."

Barry Edwards of the police department and Scott Crocker of the fire department, who were the first on the scene to help Vera, spoke with the "Inside Edition" crew Monday. Vera met Police Chief Brian Kelly and Fire Chief Jon Canada as her parents watched from a few feet away.

"We don't want to be famous," Vera's dad, Glen Winberg, said with a smile. "It's been hectic with the camera trucks around, and it's time for this to slow down."

Vera's mother, Marta Ceron, is anxious to get her daughter off her feet.

"She really has to rest. We've been on the go," Ceron said, holding flowers that the firefighters gave Vera. "But I wouldn't miss this reunion today for anything."

The North Georgia College & State University junior will find out this week if she needs back surgery.

Foreseeing any complications and time needed for recovery, Vera decided to drop her classes for the semester but is keeping a positive attitude about heading back to school when she can.

"The best advice I can give people, when you're in that situation, is to fight for your life," she said. "Don't give up."