Bystanders come to aid of driver in deadly canal crash in Rotonda West

Reporter: Erika Jackson Writer: Jackie Winchester
Published: Updated:
Strangers jumped into action to save a man’s life Thursday morning after he drove his car into a Charlotte County canal. (Photo courtesy of Lori Smith)

Florida Highway Patrol responded to a deadly crash Thursday where a 66-year-old man drove his car into a canal in Charlotte County. The victim was taken to the hospital and was later pronounced dead.

The car went into a canal near Boundry Boulevard and Cape Haze Drive in Rotonda West. Good Samaritans jumped into action to rescue the man before first responders arrived at the scene.

A bystander says she didn’t even think about the water’s temperature as she jumped in, fueled by adrenaline.

Investigators don’t know why the car went into the canal, but the current carried it more than 100 yards downstream and made rescuing the driver much more difficult.

“My wife said, ‘oh my God,’ looking out the window. I looked out the window and saw the car floating. I ran out, grabbed the rope off my kayak, and ran down there to try to get the rope to them,” said John Smith of Rotonda West. “I hooked it to the car but we couldn’t pull it so I swam out there.”

They reached the car and found one of its windows slightly open. The man’s seatbelt was on and they struggled to pull him out.

“Around that time, the car took a plunge; it went under fast,” Smith said.

That made saving the man’s life much harder.

“I went underwater to try to open the outside door handle but it wouldn’t work. I tried reaching into the partially opened window to try to get the inside handle but I couldn’t find it,” Smith said.

“I went into the water and I said I hope there’s no alligators. I didn’t even think about it; I just saw he needed help, so I tried to help.”

And they did help, by preventing the car from floating even farther.

First responders finally got the man to safety. He didn’t have a pulse at first, but they revived him and took him to Englewood Community Hospital, but he was pronounced dead later in the day.

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