The last time Alice Modine saw her “guardian angel,” he was pulling her out of her car before it sank into a lake.
“Is that him?” the 94-year-old Boca Raton, Fla., resident asked as she peered through her front door.
The man, Fabio Franca, approached with his wife, Victoria, and youngest son, Joshua.
Modine met Franca with a hug and words of thanks.
“You were the guardian angel that looks out for me,” Modine told Franca as the two sat in Modine’s living room. “ ‘Helping’ is an understatement.”
Modine was driving on Glades Road during a heavy rain when she decided to pull over to wait for the storm to subside last month.
But instead of stopping on the shoulder, she ended up hopping a curb and driving her 2007 Toyota Corolla into a lake near the Hilton Boca Raton Suites hotel.
Franca, a 46-year-old Deerfield Beach resident, was driving near Modine and said he thought something was wrong when he saw her start to drive slowly and then pull over.
“I’m familiar with that area so I thought ‘There’s nothing there but a lake,’ ” Franca recalled. “The reason I went back was because I was like ‘Man, that could be my grandma.’ ”
So, he pulled over, rushed out of his car and ran toward the lake, pulling off his shoes and taking out his cellphone and other electronics.
“I knew where I was going, so there was no second thought,” Franca said.
His oldest son, who is 17, also ran to the lake with him and tried to call 911. Joshua stayed in the car.
When Franca got to Modine’s car, the front of the vehicle was mostly submerged, and the water was up to Modine’s chest. Modine said she couldn’t open her doors or windows and felt her car sinking.
“I hadn’t panicked,” Modine said. “I figured I’m quite old, I’ve had a wonderful life, no regrets. I wasn’t ready to go, but I figured if this is my time, so be it.”
Franca managed to get the doors open and carried Modine out of the lake.
Modine said she didn’t get a chance to properly thank Franca after the incident. Wet and cold, he had left the scene soon after paramedics arrived.
But days later, Modine’s granddaughter tracked down Franca, and they arranged to meet.
At their first meeting, the Franca family sat with Modine, talking about the rescue and what they remembered from that day.
Joshua Franca said he saw a hubcap come off Modine’s car after she hopped the curb.
“The only thing I saw was the car going off the side of the road,” he said.
Franca said he was on his way to get lunch with Victoria but called her to tell her what happened.
“I was like, ‘Are you OK?’ ” she recalled.
Franca said it was serendipitous that he was on the road at that time. He had just dropped his third son off at an appointment, which had been delayed by about 15 minutes.
“Sometimes things happen for a reason,” Franca said.