By Kyle Melnick
Maurice Henao was in his car outside of his California home last week when his girlfriend, Brannde Shanahan, called.
"Can you please go get my bag inside?" Shanahan asked.
"Okay, no problem," Henao told her.
He was grabbing Shanahan's bag inside the house when he began hearing loud noises. He ran outside - and saw that a boulder had fallen off a nearby cliff and crushed his car, which he'd parallel parked along Pacific Coast Highway.
Henao, standing in front of his demolished Prius, called Shanahan back.
"That phone call saved my life," Henao said.
As Californians have experienced rockslides and flooding in recent weeks, Henao, 40, believes he's alive because of Shanahan's request.
"I skipped death," Henao told The Washington Post. "Taking a call like that, it was some kind of a divine intervention. It wasn't my time to go."
The incident wasn't an anomaly. Rockslides have occurred across California in recent weeks because of heavy rains and floods, contributing to road closures and some of the state's 20 storm-related deaths.
"We have rocks fall all the time here because it's a canyon area," said Sgt. Christopher Soderlund of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. "The rain makes the situation worse."
On the day the boulder hit his car, January 9, Henao said he had finished his workday as a house manager for a rehab center and gone grocery shopping at Vons. Then he drove to his house in Malibu and parked alongside Pacific Coast Highway. Most days, Henao said, he sits in his car for a few minutes to check messages.
It was raining hard that day, and Henao said he was irritated when Shanahan, 34, asked him to fetch her plaid tote bag and deliver it to a nearby hospital, where she works as a secretary and nurse's aide. But when he saw the boulder on top of his car minutes later - and more rocks rolling down a neighboring hill and onto the road - he felt grateful he'd escaped a "war zone."
Henao said three other cars were damaged, but his car got the most direct hit. During the heavy rain, a four-foot boulder struck above the driver's seat, crushing the roof and shattering the front window. He said his father, John Debeck, had given him the car about three weeks earlier.
Henao said he called emergency services before texting a picture of his car to Shanahan, his girlfriend of seven months. Shanahan didn't believe the photo was real until Henao explained the sequence, which left the couple in tears. Had Shanahan called a few minutes later or earlier, Henao said, he might be dead.
"Oh, you see? Me being forgetful saved your life," Shanahan recalled joking. "It didn't make you late this time."
Henao said he was scared another rock would fall if he retrieved bags from his trunk. As more time passed that evening, Henao recognized the magnitude of the crisis he escaped.
"That was supposed to be me inside," Henao thought. "I'm not supposed to be here."
When Henao awoke the next morning, he continued to question why he was spared. If he had died, Henao thought, he would have regretted failing to build stronger relationships with his family, including his three children. With what Henao views as a second opportunity, he has vowed to spend more time with family.
He said his insurance won't cover all of the car's damage, so his friend created a fundraiser while Henao drives a rental. Henao said car-related stress might have crippled him in the past, but he has found a new appreciation for waking up each morning and listening to waves on his Las Flores Beach walks.
"I still get goose bumps to this day just thinking, 'What if she didn't call?'" Henao said. "A car is replaceable, but my life isn't."
The Washington Post