Lifestyle & Human Interest

First Responders Save Woman from Sinking Car, Fire Chief Still Inside as It Sinks: 'Chief, Get Out!'


On May 7, a 61-year-old woman driving a 2010 Ford Explorer went off the road in Le Ray, New York, at the intersection of State Route 11 and State Route 26.

After leaving the road, her car plunged through a chain-link fence before coming to rest in a retention pond along the side of the road.

When state troopers and firefighters arrived, the car was nose-down in the water and still settling.

The bravery of the troopers and fire department was put on display in the tense rescue that followed.

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“When Trooper Christopher J. Hardy (SP Watertown) arrived on the scene, he exited his patrol vehicle and followed the path to the water where the Ford Explorer was still floating,” a news release from The New York State Police Newsroom read.

“As several Evans Mills firefighters were already on scene, Evans Mills Assistant Fire Chief John Russel tied a throw bag to himself and entered the water.

“Tpr. Hardy then removed his gunbelt and vest, tied off to a throw bag, and entered the water to assist with the driver. Assistant Chief Russel used a steel pole to break the rear window of the SUV. He then entered the vehicle through the rear window. The driver was submerged up to her shoulders in the driver seat and unable to move. Russel attempted to pull her from the driver’s seat to the rear compartment but was unsuccessful. Both Tpr. Hardy and Chief Russel then attempted to open the doors but the locks would not disengage.”

As Chief Russel was inside the vehicle, trying to free the driver, the car shifted and rapidly began to sink.

“Chief, get out!” someone in the bodycam video can be heard shouting.

Trooper Hardy climbed on the car and used the same steel pole to break the sunroof, as he could see the driver’s hair against the glass. He was careful to avoid causing the woman more injury, but time was of the essence.

Russel was able to exit the submerged vehicle and join Hardy on top. Together, the two men pulled the woman from the car.

The driver had managed to hold her breath for the 20 seconds that she was underwater, and when they pulled her out, she was alert and conscious. She suffered from hypothermia and minor lacerations, which were treated at Samaritan Medical Center.

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“The female driver, identified as Joanne M. Tanner, age 61 from Evans Mills, NY was treated and released,” the news release continued.

“She was subsequently arrested for DWI (misdemeanor), Aggravated Unlicensed Operation 1st degree (E-felony), and speeding. She was issued an appearance ticket and is scheduled to appear in Watertown CAP Court on May 27, 2022, at 5:30 p.m.”

It’s frustrating when people make poor decisions that require brave men and women to put their lives on the line, but those heroes are no less heroes in such circumstances, and many have commented to commend these brave men’s actions that ultimately saved a woman’s life.

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