PLANT CITY, Fla. – A woman rescued by two county deputies as her car took on water is recovering in the hospital.
Leona Evans, 82, somehow drove her vehicle into a pond around 5 p.m. Saturday near Alexander Road North and Paul Buchman Highway, according to a news release from the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office. Police say she drove across Alexander Street before her vehicle hit an embankment, went airborne, and ran into a fence before landing in the pond.
Upon arrival, two Hillsborough County deputies Benjamin Thompson and Trent Migues reported the car going underwater with Evans trapped inside.
Thompson broke through a window, cutting his face and arms, to pull Evans out.
During a news conference, Thompson and Migues described the terrifying scene.
Thompson said he swam out to the car, which was still floating. He tried to get the driver's attention, but he said she was gripping onto the wheel and staring straight ahead.
"She was so focused on the aftermath of the crash and the water around her feet," Thompson told reporters during a press conference on Sunday. "She was holding the steering wheel, white-knuckled."
He saw the water coming into the car, so he broke a car window with his baton. Just then, water started pouring in "like a tsunami."
"It just rushed in and the water went from her ankles to her chest in a few seconds," he recalled.
Thompson asked a bystander to hold his legs as he went into the car to get the driver.
Thompson said he unfastened her seatbelt and was trying to pull the driver out of the seat as the car submerged, but she was stuck in her seat.
Migues, with the help of some Good Samaritans, grabbed onto Thompson's legs, trying to pull him and the driver out.
"I remember hearing her scream," Migues said. "She was screaming and then all of a sudden the roof (of the vehicle) went under water and the screaming stopped.”
Thompson said it felt like "10 years" that he was underwater getting Evans out of the car, but knew it was only 10-15 seconds.
The driver suddenly became free, and Migues and Thompson were able to get her out.
Thompson said the only thought going through his head as he tried to get the driver out was, "Gotta get her out, gotta get her out."
Thompson has cuts from the glass on his face and arms, but neither deputies were seriously injured.
Once out of the water, it was Migues who says he tried to lighten the mood for the distraught driver.
"I told her she’s a tough old lady," he said smiling. "She laughed."
But Evans then followed it up with something that made them laugh.
"She said, ‘That’s a heck of a place for them to put that pond,'" Migues said.
But it was the right place at the right time for these two deputies who say mere seconds made all the difference.
"It all worked exactly the way it was supposed to," Thompson said. "Had it been any other way it would’ve been a much more tragic outcome.”
The deputies also gave credit to bystanders who got into the water, trying to help, before they arrived.
Thompson and Migues are back to duty today. Evans continues recover in intensive care, according to her daughter-in-law, who says she has two broken feet, a serious head injury and paralysis on one side of her body.
At the time of the crash, Evans was headed home from visiting her son who is in intensive care in the hospital in Tampa, her daughter-in-law said.
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