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Clearwater woman saved from sinking car after losing control, going into pond

Two Clearwater Fire & Rescue Department workers dove into the murky water to pull the woman out after she suffered a medical emergency, officials said.
Members of the Clearwater Fire Department saved a woman from a sinking car in a pond Saturday morning in Largo.
Members of the Clearwater Fire Department saved a woman from a sinking car in a pond Saturday morning in Largo. [ Clearwater Fire Department ]
Published Nov. 15

The woman was still inside the sinking Toyota Prius as Lt. Ben McBride of the Clearwater Fire & Rescue Department said he felt her hands lose their grasp on his forearms and slip back into the car. She’d lost consciousness, he said, while her car filled with water.

McBride was part of the first unit that responded to a report of a car sinking into a pond just after 10 a.m. Saturday in the 2200 block of Camelot Drive in Largo. The 69-year-old driver from Clearwater had suffered a medical emergency and lost control of her car as it went into the pond, according to Sgt. Steve Gaskins, a spokesperson of the Florida Highway Patrol.

As the Prius was starting to sink, she called 911, McBride said.

McBride got to the scene quickly — the fire station is less than a mile from the pond — and he said when he arrived, bystanders told him they thought the woman in the car might already be dead. But he waded into the water anyway.

“They’re not dead until our measures deem them that way,” McBride told the Tampa Bay Times in a phone interview.

When McBride reached the sinking car about 25 feet out into the water, he said he saw the woman through the car’s back window — and saw she was alive. He broke open the window of the hatchback to reach her. Another crew member broke open the rear passenger window, according to a Facebook post from the agency.

But after they broke the windows, water rushed into the Toyota — and it became fully submerged.

While McBride could see the woman, he grabbed onto her arms — as she grabbed his. The woman wasn’t able to get out of the car on her own power, McBride said. As the Prius submerged, he felt her let go.

As the top of the car disappeared underwater, fire medic Stephanie Nuszkowski dived underwater to rescue the woman. She dived under multiple times — pulling out golf clubs and chairs from the trunk as she tried to make room to free the unconscious woman, knowing they’d have to pull her out themselves.

Lt. Wade Bishop dived under as well, McBride said, diving into water so murky it was hard to see anything under the surface. But after the Toyota had been fully submerged for about two minutes, McBride said, Bishop was able to free the driver and swim her over to land. The agency said the woman was in full cardiac arrest when she was brought ashore.

Suncoast ambulances took the woman to Mease Countryside Hospital, McBride said. In a Monday Facebook post, Clearwater Fire & Rescue said roughly 12 minutes elapsed between when crews arrived and when the woman was taken to the hospital. The agency said the woman is expected to make a full recovery.

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“We are grateful for the lifesaving work of Lt. Ben McBride, Fire Medic Mason Marty, Fire Medic Stephanie Nuszkowski, Driver-Operator Adam Mittler, Fire Medic Logan Campbell, Lt. Wade Bishop, Fire Medic Logan Cruz and others who responded to the call,” the post said.

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