Caught on Video: California driver whisked away in mudslide

Posted at 5:19 PM, Jan 11, 2018
and last updated 2018-01-11 19:26:55-05

A local resident whose vehicle was seen in a widely shared video sliding on top of a wave of mud down a Burbank street spoke out about the incident on Thursday, saying he wasn't sure if he and his girlfriend were going to survive the wild ride.

Dallas native Desionne Franklin said he'd never experienced anything like the deluge that hit the home where he is staying in Burbank. He first became worried about the weather conditions when he got up at 6 a.m. Tuesday to get ready for work.

“I heard a rumbling as I was lying in the bed and I woke up," he recalled. "I told my girlfriend, ‘Hey, I don’t know what’s happening, but we’ve got to get ready to go.’"

While the harsh rain that lashed Southern California areas scarred by wildfire early this week brought by far the most deadly and catastrophic consequences in Santa Barbara County, property damage was also sustained in Los Angeles County, as evidenced in the clip.

Video of Franklin's ordeal was captured by crew members with a local firefighters union, Burbank Firefighters Local 778, as the storm battered the region on Tuesday. The video was posted to Instagram on Wednesday.

The video opens on a shot of 700 block of Country Club Drive — a hilly street, buttressed by homes — that looks more like a swift-moving river of sludge. A surge of mud comes downhill, carrying with it a dark-colored Toyota Prius that goes careening down the hill but manages to stay on the curved roadway.

Before he got into the car, Franklin says he had decided to call into work and instead nervously surveyed the scene as it unfolded outside his window "like a torrent of water, and boulders, and rocks, and mud that was a constant flow," he said.

That morning, Franklin shared a video on Instagram showing the sludge as it flowed down the hill.

“Man, look at California,” he can be heard narrating, while the caption opines that such extreme weather incidents are “the price for living in a beautiful state.”

After the downpour slowed, Franklin helped his housemate secure sandbags around the home's perimeter and went back to sleep.

But a few hours later, his housemate came downstairs to tell him the neighborhood was being evacuated. They began packing their things and shoveled about 2 to 4 feet of mud that was caked up in front of the driveway, Franklin said.

But while Franklin's housemate was gathering his child and cats, conditions quickly worsened.

"The rain had started coming down, and I start seeing the rocks and boulders again," he described. "I ran back in the house and said, ‘Hey, we don’t have time for that. We have to leave right now.’"

Franklin and his girlfriend were the last to leave, and he attempted to ease his car down the street to avoid puncturing any tires.

"When I got halfway down the hill, I just felt this burst of water hit the back of the car,” he said.

That's the powerful burst of mud that can be seen in the video. After turning the corner, Franklin said the sedan hydroplaned the rest of the way down the hill.

“I guess this is going to be it for me, right here,” he recalled thinking.

With his girlfriend screaming at the top of her lungs, Franklin managed to get some traction and maneuver the car to the bottom of the hill, where several other smashed-up vehicles had come to rest after similar journeys.

“One of the cars looked like a wadded up piece of foil paper," he said. "You couldn’t even recognize what it was to begin with.”

The pair then drove to the Burbank library to survey the damage to Franklin's car, which he began leasing about seven months ago to drive for ride-hailing apps such as Lyft and Uber. The car was mucked up and scratched, but still functions fine.

“I didn’t even know a Prius could hold up in nothing like that,” he said.

Franklin posted his own video on Instagram of the aftermath, saying he and his girlfriend had "barely made it out."

“I just got pushed down the side of a hill by a wall of water and mud," he can be heard narrating.

On Tuesday, the Verdugo Mountains area that had been charred in the La Tuna Fire last September was particularly vulnerable to flash flooding.

The entire street of Country Club Drive east of Via Montana, an area that boasts several million-dollar homes, was under mandatory evacuation as the rain poured down, and several other roads throughout the area were under voluntary evacuation or closed to through traffic.

On Tuesday morning, Burbank police posted video on Twitter of two other vehicles being washed away in fast-moving floodwater that had turned Country Club Drive into a river of mud. Both cars appeared severely damaged.

Burbank firefighters later said they became trapped in the area of Deer Canyon and Sunset Basins as flowing mud made it impossible for residents to leave their homes.