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Thursday, July 3rd, 2014

Teen helps in lake rescue

Rockford woman misses curve after dozing off

By Doug Drexler

Celina firefighters Mike Bruns, foreground, and Brian Davis help Nancy Leighner. . .

CELINA - An area teen is being lauded for helping rescue a Rockford woman who drove her SUV into Grand Lake on Wednesday afternoon.
No one was injured in the accident along Lakeshore Drive in Celina shortly before 1 p.m.
Skyler Green, 15, of Portland, Ind., was taking photos with his family along the lake's shore when he saw Nancy Leighner's white Saturn VUE submerged to its roof near Pullman Bay, according to a police report. An unknown man quickly arrived at the scene with a life jacket, Green said.
"I got in there and took it to her," the boy said. "She didn't know how to swim and I did."
As he got to the car, 76-year-old Leighner was climbing out of the vehicle's window and Green handed her the life jacket.
"That way she'd be safe," he said.
Celina firefighters Brian Davis and Mike Bruns a short time later used a rescue boat to remove Leighner and Green from atop the vehicle.
"(I'm) just glad someone was there to help me," said Leighner, who was alone in the SUV. "Thank God."
She had just taken her daughter to the airport in Dayton, she said. In an attempt to stay alert for an appointment, she was driving north toward Market Street to get a caffeinated drink from a fast-food restaurant. She told the newspaper she likely dozed off for an instant.
The Saturn traveled off the roadway after missing the curve near Elmgrove Avenue, just before the Pullman Bay bridge.
"The minute I hit the stone, I was wide awake," Leighner said.
Although shaken up, she refused medical treatment at the scene.
Green's bravery and quick reactions impressed Celina Police Chief Tom Wale.
"Sounds like he's kind of the hero today," he said. "He got her a life jacket and stayed with her until EMTs could get her out."
The incident ended as well as it could have, he added.
"No one's hurt and we have a real positive story on the boy," Wale said.
Firefighter Russ Moorman helped tend to Leighner at the scene. She told him she had just seen a story on the news instructing people to open their windows if they're in a vehicle entering water.
"That was the right thing to do," Moorman said. "It saved her life."
Fire Chief Doug Wolters said people must also take their own safety into account when deciding whether to attempt a rescue.
"It's a judgment call," he said.
Wolters also applauded Leighner's actions.
"It was good to see her on top of the car," he said. "She did the right thing getting out of the car."
Rolling down a window and climbing out is the best way to escape a sinking or submerged vehicle because the weight of the water makes opening a door impossible, Wale said. Electric windows will continue to work for a while after the electrical system starts to get wet, he added.
Valerie Fritzinger said she was parked along the lake using her cellphone during lunch break when Leighner's car barely missed hers on its way into the water.
"All of a sudden I heard a crash," she said. "She just looked like she was going across the water."

Expert shares tips:
What not to do:
Don't reach for your cellphone.
• A person has about one minute to exit the vehicle through the window before water pressure prevents opening the windows. A cellphone call will waste valuable time.

What to do:
Stay calm.
• Take off seat belts immediately.
• Lower or break the window. A center punch may be needed to break side windows.
• Get small children in the front seat with the driver.
• Get out through the window. Push your children out first.

How long will the vehicle "float"?
• Although a vehicle may be visible for a few minutes, escape is most probable in the first minute or so.
• The vehicle floats only until the water reaches the bottom of the side windows, about one minute.
• While the vehicle is sinking, water pressure will press the window against the door frame, making it impossible to open. It does not matter how long this period is. Even though the vehicle is visible, it is a tomb with windows and doors that cannot be opened.
• Even after the vehicle is submerged, all the air will not have escaped and doors or windows will not be able to be opened. A person must wait for the vehicle to fill completely with water before the pressure equalizes and the door can be opened.

One final principle:
Always try to use the window, not the door. Even if the door can be opened, the water will rush in and the vehicle will plummet to the bottom. A person could get caught in the door, which will then slam shut, trapping anyone else who may be in the vehicle.
- Safety tips from Dr. Gordon Giesbrecht of the University of Manitoba suggested by Celina firefighter/paramedic Jon Schumm.
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