WAKE COUNTY, N.C. (WTVD) --Joseph De La Riva was going to work with four other men when the landscaping truck he was riding in careened off an overpass on the Triangle Expressway just west of Cary.
De La Riva survived the initial crash, but one of his coworkers, 60-year-old Andrew Johnstone, did not. De La Riva was trapped in the wreckage beneath Johnstone's lifeless body. As terror began to overwhelm him, he suddenly heard a stranger's voice.
"He told me to try to try to calm down and try to not waste a lot of your energy because I was doing a lot of screaming, and he was like, 'I'm here, just focus on me, just try to store some of your energy, relax I'm here,'" De La Riva remembered.
The words of reassurance came from Mikel Barton, who pulled over and ran down the rocky embankment to help until emergency crews arrived.
"There was a lot of fear coming out not knowing what to do, and everything was pretty surreal. Getting in there and realizing that there was a man trapped, trapped underneath Andrew [the deceased,] whose head was just above water," Barton recalled.
Unable to do anything to free him, Barton simply kept De La Riva alert and calm while they awaited the arrival of emergency crews. That was the last the two saw of each other, until just this week when Barton stopped by to visit him in the hospital.
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Meeting under much better circumstances, De La Riva was finally able to thank Barton in person. De La Riva's mother credits this stranger with helping save her son's life.
WATCH: ABC11 speaks with Mikel Barton
"He did put you there, God put you there" De La Riva's mom told Barton, as she gave him a huge hug with tears in her eyes.
While Barton says all the credit should go to the first responders who were there that day and freed De La Riva from the wreckage, there's certainly one thing both men agree on: they plan to stay in each other's lives.
"It's a weird bond, I mean because not everybody goes through that situation that I've gone through," begins De La Riva. "But to have him? It's kind of like he's a guardian angel."
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