Dec. 19--DAVIE -- For prying open the door of a crashed car sunk in waist-deep muck and rescuing the woman inside, the Florida Highway Patrol awarded four South Florida men with certificates of appreciation and coffee mugs.
And for them, that was more than enough. Saving a life was their true reward.
"It was a good feeling, because at the end of the day, she got to go home," one of FHP's designated heroes, Michael Clancy, a construction worker from Margate, said Wednesday at the agency's Davie barracks.
On Labor Day afternoon, Phenise Louis, 27, was driving her Honda sedan south along Interstate 95.
Her vehicle left the west side of the highway near Oakland Park Boulevard, went through a fence, flipped onto its roof and landed in a ditch, FHP Sgt. Mark Wysocky said.
Brian Moody, a solar contractor from Fort Lauderdale; Lawrence Rand, a retired police officer from the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, from Plantation; Gabino Vargas, of Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, and Clancy all stopped their vehicles in response.
Moody had been driving right behind Louis before the crash.
"When it went in the water, I said, 'I better stop,'" Moody said of Louis' mostly submerged car. "The wheels were sticking up out of the water."
Moody and the other men waded into the mud and thick foliage that pushed against the sinking Honda's door and hampered their efforts to pull it open.
Inside, they said, Louis was coping with water in the compartment.
Rand, the former cop who was also trained as a firefighter/EMT, was wishing for rescue tools.
"Every time [Moody] got the [door] an inch or so, it would close shut," said Rand, who had undergone heart surgery in June.
"She was pleading, saying, 'Get me out!" Moody said.
Clancy said he and Vargas, who did not attend Wednesday's ceremony, sat on the Honda's undercarriage. When Moody and Rand pulled the door open a few inches, the men pushed it open with their feet until Louis was pulled free.
"Thank God she was as skinny as a toothpick, because we would have never gotten her out," Clancy said.
Louis did not attend Wednesday's ceremony but Moody said she'd called to thank him that night.
Clancy and Rand joked about stripping to their skivvies after the rescue.
"When the fire department showed up, they busted out the hoses and we're taking showers on the side of Interstate 95, washing the dirt off," Clancy said.
Wysocky said the men's quick efforts on that life-changing day were selfless and "a great example for our community."
Ltrischitta@Tribune.com, 954-356-4233 or Twitter @LindaTrischitta
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