MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota (CNN) -- Seven years ago, police in North Carolina covered shooting victim Marcelo Cruz with a tarp, believing he was dead. He wasn't. Cruz survived the street fight shooting, but was left paralyzed from the waist down.
Marcelo Cruz, paralyzed in a street fight, survived the bridge collapse.
The Mexican native rebuilt his life, and at 26, was living in Minneapolis, driving a specially equipped van so he could get around the city.
That's what he was doing Wednesday when he drove onto the Interstate 35W bridge just after 6 p.m., only to see the bridge in front of him start to shake -- and in a few short seconds, tumble down.
Cruz saw 10 or 20 cars in front of him plunge into the water. He applied the brakes, but on the now-sloping bridge deck, he couldn't stop. Watch Cruz recount his harrowing experience »
"I thought I was going to die," he told CNN.
But he wasn't afraid, he said. He just thought about what he needed to do and how to do it. How to stop a car if the brakes don't do the job?
Cruz swerved, and plowed his van into the concrete guard rail. It worked -- the van stopped, less than 15 feet from what was now the end of the bridge before it dropped into the Mississippi River.
Now trapped in his van on the bridge -- unable get out because of the sharp angle -- Cruz said he heard a woman screaming from below. Then she stopped. See a diagram of the bridge »
"I really felt hopeless because I couldn't do anything," he said.
Finally, two rescue workers saw him and helped him reach safety. About 15 minutes after the bridge collapse, he called his mother, Ignacia Cruz, and told her to turn on the television. He just wanted her to know he was OK.
Ignacia Cruz spoke to CNN quietly in her native Spanish.
"God and the Virgin Mary saved my son, because otherwise he would have tumbled into the water with all the other cars," she said. See photos of the disaster »
"I began to cry and cry, because this was the second time he was saved."
On Thursday, after surviving his second brush with death, Cruz was stoic.
"You really have to enjoy every day," he said, "because you don't know if it's your last." E-mail to a friend
All About U.S. Department of Transportation • Mississippi River