Kazuhiro Kokubo survives car wreck

Two-time U.S. Open champion Kazu Kokubo is lucky to be alive after Friday's car crash. Mark Kohlman

On Friday, two-time U.S. Open halfpipe champion and Japanese Olympian, Kazuhiro Kokubo, survived a devastating automobile accident in California. Kokubo emerged from a totaled 1995 Toyota Land Cruiser with minor injuries. The pro snowboarder's seatbelt saved his life.

"The fact that [Kokubo] walked away from a Land Cruiser that's now the size of a Prius with nothing more than a few cuts is nothing short of a miracle," said agent Carl Harris, who fetched him from the hospital. "Everything was ejected except for him. First responders were certain whoever might be inside was certainly not alive, critical at best ..."

Kokubo was driving to Los Angeles from Mammoth Mountain on Highway 395 when he flipped his vehicle at approximately 7:15 p.m. He had planned to fly from Mammoth to LAX to catch another plane to Japan to surprise his wife Tomoe for her birthday but the Mammoth leg cancelled, so he drove south to catch the last leg of his flight. CHP estimate that the SUV flipped four or five times and, as photos show, the only part not totally crushed is the driver's area.

Harris was in touch with Kokubo throughout the day, including just 90 minutes before the accident. At 8:11 p.m., he saw Kokubo's number coming in and answered to find an EMT from Ridgecrest Regional Hospital on the other end of the line.

"I heard: EMT, Kazuhiro, car accident, totaled, he's fine and just went numb," says Harris. "It took me a few seconds to realize what was going on. [The EMT] said, 'He's OK. He's getting a CT scan but other than some scratches and a few cuts that he's refusing stitches for...'

"I expected if ever I were to get a call like that, it would be coming from Alaska or interior B.C. But not about a car accident from a kid who drives slower than my dead grandmother."

CHP suggested that Kokubo might have fallen asleep at the wheel but both Kokubo and agent Harris insist this is impossible. "[Kazu] was absolutely certain about not falling asleep and I believe him ... He still doesn't remember how it happened. He's probably looked at the pictures 1,000 times and just says how lucky he was and how thankful he is that nobody was in the truck with him.

"He'll be the first to tell you, 'There were many people protecting me Friday night...' I asked him who he thought was watching over him and he said, 'My Obachan [grandmother], Ojiisan [grandfather]. Everyone. So many people...'"

Look for a feature on Kokubo to hit ESPN Snowboarding in early June.