TAMPA — Trapped in an upside down car sinking into the mud, the cold water rising up to her chin, her location shrouded in fog, Amanda Nicole Antonio called 911 for help.
She tried to stifle the rising panic in her voice when the dispatcher answered.
It was about 4 a.m. on New Year’s Day, and the 20-year-old had no idea where the overturned car had landed on the side of Interstate 4:
“My car is flipped and I can’t see anything and there’s water getting in the car,” the 20-year-old Seffner woman said.
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The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office on Wednesday released the recording of her dramatic, 20-minute call to 911. Deputies rescued Antonio early Tuesday, but only because she was able to stay calm and help guide them to her location.
Antonio was driving a 2008 Scion east on I-4, close to the U.S. 301 exit ramp, when she was cut off, lost control and overturned down a steep embankment and into a water-filled ditch, officials said. She was wearing her seat belt at the time of the crash, so she was able to escape with only a few minor bruises and injuries.
Antonio found a shrinking pocket of air between the front driver and passenger seats while she talked to the 911 operator.
In the recording, she couldn’t remember the make or model of her boyfriend’s two-door sedan. But she did tell the dispatcher that she was traveling east towards Orlando and had left the road somewhere between exit 7 and exit 10.
Antonio can be heard gasping for air as water and mud gurgles into the vehicle throughout the call. Still, she follows the dispatcher’s calm instructions and continues to talk until deputies can get to her.
“I don’t know what to say, I’m freezing,” she said. “It’s getting up to my neck. I’m so scared. Please tell them to come faster. Please help me ... My phone’s dying, it’s at 5 percent.”
Then she pulled up her location on Google Maps and told the dispatcher that she was next to the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre at the Florida State Fairgrounds.
That may have helped narrow the search down while a sheriff’s helicopter and 13 vehicles scoured both sides of I-4 looking for the sinking car.
Meanwhile Antonio tried to escape on her own. She tried to break open a car window but couldn’t. She couldn’t open a submerged door, either. Not even the car’s horn worked.
She asked the 911 operator to call her mother and her boyfriend, relaying their names and phone numbers. When asked how old she is, Antonio told the operator she would turn 21 on Saturday.
“Are you excited about your birthday?,” the operator asked.
“Not anymore,” Antonio replied.
She told the operator she would soon need to hold her breath.
Then, the faint sound of sirens and deputies yelling could be heard in the background.
Deputy Ryan Cooper spotted the sinking Scion from the interstate and waded into the thick, waist-high mud. He coached Antonio to stay clam, keep talking to 911 and told her that she would soon be rescued.
Then two members of the sheriff’s dive team, Deputies Chris Sullivan and Jeremy Pollack, arrived with air tanks. They pried open a car door encased in thick sludge and freed her from the car.
“How’s it going?” one chipper deputy could be heard asked Antonio as she was helped to safety.
She was briefly treated at Tampa General Hospital, then resting at home later Tuesday.
Her mother Wanda Guzman told the Tampa Bay Times on Tuesday that her daughter feared the worst.
“She told me, ‘I thought I was going to die,’” Guzman said. “There must have been angels around her.”
Contact Anastasia Dawson at email@example.com or (813) 226-3377. Follow @adawsonwrites.