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White City man who nearly drowns, comes out of coma

WHITE CITY — A White City man pulled from the wreckage of his pickup that crashed into an irrigation ditch Thursday has emerged from a coma and could be on the path to recovery, family members said.

James Leonard Liles, 55, recognized his wife after waking from the coma late Thursday, said his cousin, Dorothy Weissensee.

"It was a good sign," Weissensee said. "We are hoping his brain is not badly damaged from being under water for close to four minutes."

Liles was driving his pickup on East Antelope Road just after noon when, for unknown reasons, it left the road and overturned into a ditch.

The pickup's cab became submerged, trapping Liles in roughly three feet of water.

He was saved by a group of good Samaritans, who managed to pull the pickup out of the ditch and onto its wheels and pull Liles from the cab. Eagle Point elementary teacher Shirley Blanchard performed CPR on Liles, who was barely breathing when he was carried to the embankment, she said.

He was taken to Rogue Valley Medical Center in Medford, where he remained late Friday in intensive care. His family was hopeful he would be able to carry on with a normal life following his recovery.

"They are calling for a plastic surgeon to work on a big gash on his chin and a deep cut on his forehead," Weissensee said. "That is a good sign that they are going to bother with plastic surgery."

Liles recently retired as a heavy-equipment operator at the Eagle Point National Cemetery. His wife, Lana Liles, also works at the cemetery.

He is one of 12 children and fought as a helicopter door gunner in Vietnam, Weissensee said.

Weissensee said Liles is "deathly afraid" of water and refused to go on rafting trips with his family.

"We could never get him out on the water," she said.

Police still are investigating the cause of the crash.

Weissensee says she plans to personally thank Blanchard and fellow rescuers John Murphy, Byron Lingren and Andrew Hutton for their efforts. "There's no doubt they saved his life," she said.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 776-4471; or e-mail cconrad@mailtribune.com.