LAND O'LAKES — Ed Caum was driving to his job at Pasco's tourism office when the black vehicle zipped by, weaving through traffic. Rich Solkin, a real estate agent, was taking his son to school when it "passed me like I was at a complete standstill. He was probably doing over 100."
What happened next unfolded in seconds. It brought the men together as rescuers and led to the arrest of a suspected drug dealer.
In the end, Caum and Solkin received citations from the county for their efforts.
The vehicle, a Toyota Scion, whipped by at about 9 a.m. on Aug. 28. As it traveled west on State Road 54, west of U.S. 41, it moved to the left lane to avoid a collision. Then suddenly it veered back to stay clear of the median. The driver apparently over-compensated. The Scion darted across two lanes of traffic and hurled toward a drainage ditch on the highway's north side. It flipped and landed on its roof, according to a Florida Highway Patrol report.
Solkin, a former fire chief from Linwood, N.J., saw the accident and pulled over. He told his 8-year-old to wait in the car while he tramped through the knee-high grass toward the smoking vehicle, which slid deeper into the ditch.
Caum pulled up at about the same time.
"I guess it was my military training," he said.
Solkin called 911 while Caum, who spent 16 years in the Army and now works as Pasco's interim public communications manager, waded through the muddy water toward the driver's side.
"It was probably about 18 inches deep," he said.
The driver's door was jammed, but the passenger side opened. Inside, the compartment was filling with mud and water. He pulled out the man, Jeremy Grove, 22, of Tampa, who was wedged in, and handed him over to Solkin, who helped him up the slippery embankment.
Solkin retrieved a first aid kit to tend to a gash in one of Grove's legs. Caum grabbed a fire extinguisher from his car and sprayed the vehicle's undercarriage and engine.
The man was grateful to both and seemed coherent. He returned to the car to retrieve some envelopes, but Solkin urged him to stay seated in case he had a head or back injury.
Then, it was too late to return. Troopers pulled up. As they examined the car and envelopes, they found ecstasy, hydrocodone and drug paraphernalia, FHP said.
Grove was treated for his injuries and jailed. Along with three traffic violations, he was charged with numerous counts of possession of drug paraphernalia, possession of a controlled substance without a prescription, trafficking in a controlled substance and possession of drugs with intent to sell, manufacture or deliver. As of Friday, he was being held at the Land O'Lakes jail in lieu of $188,750 bail.
"No matter what he might have done, he's somebody's son," Caum said.
Solkin said other cars continued past, but he decided to stop because the man needed help.
County commissioners agreed. Last week, they approved a resolution commending Solkin and Caum for their "outstanding teamwork and bravery."
"I just acted on instinct," Caum said. "I hope he (Grove) gets the help he needs."
Rich Shopes can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6236.