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Panic deadly when cars go under

Cara Jones
Jan. 29, 2003

LEE COUNTY, Fla.— Three accidents in the past week have all ended tragically
with drivers unable to escape as their cars sank in local waters.

Tuesday, a 30-year-old man was killed when his pickup truck suddenly veered
off the road and into a canal. Authorities believe he drowned.

Monday, also in Cape Coral, a 68-year-old man drowned after he drove into the
path of a pickup truck, and the impact sent his car into a nearby canal.

Thursday, in south Fort Myers, a 67-year-old woman drowned when her car blew
a tire and veered into a retention pond.

Law enforcement officers say panic is the number one mistake people make when
they hit the water, and there are a few things drivers can do in the two to
three minutes before their car is submerged that might just save their life.

Many cars get submerged in waters many could actually stand in. But when
panic sets in, that two to three minute reaction time is lost. By the time
emergency crews respond, it’s usually too late.

"It’s discouraging for us," said Ryan Bell of the Lee County Sheriff’s
Office. "The panic sets in and people do what comes natural. Eventually the
stress sets in and it leads to their demise."

So what do you do to get out alive?

The first thing is to make sure you have your seat belt on – that way you can
stay strapped in and avoid getting injured.

Experts say that when you hit water, you also want to make sure to keep your
car running – believe it or not your cars power windows should work
underwater.

"A lot of people, when the water starts setting in, they put the car in park
and turn the car off," Bell said.

Once the car starts sinking, experts say you'll have two to three minutes
before its submerged. If you can't roll down a window, you'll want to get a
simple window smasher or emergency hammer.

You can buy a device as small as a key chain that has a razor on it to cut
the seatbelt. It also has a window breaker. You just put it up to a window
and it will smash in a instant. If all else fails, your car windshield is
designed to pop out – you can even do that with your feet.

If you can't break free, wait for the water to fill the car. Once the
pressure equalizes, your door should open. The most important thing to
remember is do not panic – because there is almost always some way out.

One type of device, called Res-Q-Me, can be bought over the Internet or at
many hardware stores. You can also keep a simple hammer or screwdriver handy
to do the trick.

Just to give a sense of that two to three minute reaction time, it’s likely
longer than it took you to read this story.