At least three people jumped into the “cold and murky” Des Plaines River Thursday morning and swam to a sinking car where they pulled the driver safely to shore after she suffered a medical emergency and lost control of her vehicle on Roosevelt Road.
Members of the Forest Park police and fire departments arrived at the scene around 9:35 a.m. and saw the car, a 2017 Toyota Corolla, “in the middle of the cold and murky river,” according to Chief of Police Ken Gross.
Gross said two police officers and a bystander made the decision to swim to the car, which Fire Chief Phil Chiappetta estimated was at least 50 feet from the shore, and reached the Corolla as it was becoming fully submerged. The trio then broke the car’s windows and an officer reached into the car and pulled the woman out.
The woman “began gasping for air as soon as she was pulled from the water,” Gross wrote in an email.
The rescuers and members of the fire department, at least one of whom also jumped into the water to assist, then brought the woman back to shore and up a steep riverbank. She was then transported by ambulance to a local hospital where she was being treated for non-life threatening injuries.
Chiappetta, who arrived on scene shortly after the woman was pulled to safety, said that in his more than two decades as a member of the fire department, he’d never experienced that type of water rescue in Forest Park.
“Between the police department and fire department, I can’t say enough about the guys,” Chiappetta said. “Public safety is our job and they risked their lives today to save that woman.”
Gross said the officers and the bystander who went into the water as part of the initial rescue “will be receiving lifesaving awards” at a later date.
The precise cause of the accident is unknown, but according to a crash report the woman was driving westbound on Roosevelt between Desplaines and First avenues when she experienced a “medical emergency” and the car veered across the roadway, through a Pace bus shelter, into some trees and eventually into the river, just south of the Roosevelt Road bridge.
The car was later pulled from the water.