Free falling is a sensation Bianca Vera will never forget, and never wants to experience again.
“When your stomach is not where it is supposed to be ... the butterflies,” Vera said, pausing, “I don’t know how to describe that feeling.”
Vera, 22, remained hospitalized Friday as she continued to recover from injuries sustained after her 40-foot jump from the Dawsonville Highway bridge into Lake Lanier the day before.
The nursing student leaped from the roadway just before daybreak Thursday morning, believing a truck was about to hit her.
Vera said she parked and briefly exited her silver Nissan Xterra after a near miss with an oncoming car that resulted in a icy slide into a guardrail.
But then the headlights of a truck appeared. And Vera believed the vehicle was bearing down on her.
“I don’t think I would’ve ever stayed there,” Vera said.
Gainesville Police Department traffic investigators continue piecing together the chain of events that led to the pileup around 6 a.m. Initial reports released Friday show there were three accidents involving 10 cars on the Dawsonville Highway bridge. Vera’s wreck was among the first to occur.
Police documents do not explain what happened, or for that matter support Vera’s explanation.
But she understands the delay as a necessary process.
“It was a big accident. It wasn’t like a fender bender,” she said. “I guess it does take a while to get the facts straight.”
Vera has been flooded with calls the past two days as she has recounted her shocking experience to friends, family and the public.
“I didn’t think it would be that big of a deal,” Vera said, with a laugh. “I guess it is something crazy that I did.”
After slamming into the frigid water, Vera, a junior at North Georgia College & State University, knew to keep moving her body because of hypothermia. She took off her coat and sweater, which quickly became weights as she swam. Then she managed to kick off her boots.
Once on shore, Vera tried to pull herself up the embankment with her arms before realizing a rescue would be her only way to warmth.
What Vera never did was look back.
“It was kind of hard watching the clip of the news last night,” Vera said. “Just because, really, when I got to the bank I didn’t look back on the bridge or anything. I know people just kept telling me how high it was. But it really was high.”
The morning also was harrowing for Vera’s mother, Marta Ceron.
Vera’s boyfriend, David Briceno, called the Gainesville woman with news of her daughter’s accident around 9 a.m.
Her body shook with thoughts of her daughter’s possible condition.
“Maybe she is going to be in pieces, maybe she is going to be paralyzed — everything was going through my mind,” Ceron said. “Then I found her. She was still hypothermic, they had all these things on top of her to get her body temperature back up. I almost couldn’t even see her. We both cried.”
Ceron has replayed again and again how her daughter’s survival instincts saved her life. The mother believes other forces worked on Vera’s behalf as well.
“Every time I talk about it, I can’t believe this, that she went through all that,” Ceron said. “God loves us. He’s just amazing. You can tell. I don’t know how she could take it for 45 minutes or more with that cold weather and the water, it’s amazing.”
On Friday, Vera took her first steps since standing on the icy bridge. They felt good.
“I walked today,” she said. “That was exciting ... I walked around that unit. I’m doing OK.”