PALM HARBOR — Daniel Vinovich's hands were black and blue with bruises. He was still sore and overwhelmed by emotion. But none of that matters, the 71-year-old said Monday, because he's alive — thanks to a teenager.
He was driving east on Highlands Boulevard near Cypress Green Drive just before 5 p.m. Sunday when back spasms caused him to lose control, according to the Florida Highway Patrol. He ended up driving his Honda Civic into a retention pond.
Vinovich calls what happened next "divine intervention."
Moments after he entered the pond, water poured over him as his car sank. That's when 17-year-old Jordon Litowchak appeared.
The teen, a senior outside linebacker at Palm Harbor University High School, pulled Vinovich out through the driver's side window and carried him to shore.
On Monday, Vinovich was still piecing together what happened to him. But he knows who saved him.
"Everything happened so fast, I can't say concretely what exactly happened," he said. "But what I can say is that a young man with high moral standards did what he knew he had to do — and he did it instantly."
Just before the accident, Litowchak was riding in the back seat of his mom's car. Tina Horn was driving her Toyota Camry along Highlands Boulevard, headed for her parents' house for family dinner.
As they approached the pond, they saw a giant splash, then the car. Then Litowchak saw the red of Vinovich's T-shirt in the driver's seat. He said he didn't even think about what he did next. He just reacted.
"I was like 'Mom, you need to stop the car,' " he said. "She was still driving but I had to get out, I had to get there."
The teen jumped out of the car before his mother could come to a full stop.
"So I just got out, ran and jumped right into the pond and swam to the car," he said.
Horn, 45, said she remembers shaking and trying to process what was going on before she realized her only child had left the car and leapt into the pond. She watched him swim 50 feet or so to reach the sinking car.
The next day, she beamed with pride.
"I've got a good kid, and I know that I have a good kid, but this really got me in the heart," she said. "He didn't stop, he didn't blink, he didn't ask questions — he just responded. He put himself second."
Litowchak said when he reached the car, the front end was pointed downward into the water and it was filling up fast. He rushed to help Vinovich — who was conscious but in shock — through the window.
Vinovich said he doesn't remember much. He recalls feeling disoriented, in pain and struggling to breathe. He said he could not have saved himself.
"When you look at the circumstances, there was so little time — literally seconds," Vinovich said. "If (Litowchak) wouldn't have come to me, you wouldn't be talking to me. This young man saved my life."
After the teen pulled him free, Vinovich said he tried to paddle to shore. But Litowchak ended up carrying most of his weight until they got close enough to shore so the 71-year-old could stand on his own.
Once the pair was safely on the bank of the pond, Vinovich said he started crying. Then he hugged and thanked Litowchak while they waited for an ambulance to arrive.
"He said 'God was looking out for me and He worked through you,' " Litowchak remembered. "He was just very thankful. But I really didn't even think about it. I just knew I had to help, that's just kind of how I am."
Vinovich, a retired upholstery supply business owner, was taken to a local hospital for evaluation, but decided not to spend the night there. He said he suffered no major injuries in the crash.
Reached at his home in Holiday, the father of two and grandfather of five said he was overwhelmed with gratitude to Litowchak.
"Sometimes when you're older you think you don't really care about death," Vinovich said. "But then comes the time when death is facing you … then it's a different story. Then you prize life.
"All the glory is to the young man. My heart goes out to him and it always will."
Contact Megan Reeves at [email protected] or (727) 445-4153. Follow @mreeves_tbt.