Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Split Seconds Saved Driver

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Split Seconds Saved Driver

Article excerpt

GARFIELD -- Multiple 911 calls poured into the Police Department on Tuesday afternoon reporting that a car was upside down in the Saddle River.

Firefighter Patrick Ducey's pager went off as he was driving only a minute from the accident. Officer Robert Meehan was wrapping up an off-duty shift at a construction site. Officer Christopher Strabone and Sgt. Michael Marsh were at police headquarters and jumped in a truck together.

Motorist was trapped

On their way, the four men heard another officer confirm the situation over the police radio around 4 p.m.

"I was like, OK, this got real really fast," Strabone recalled Wednesday afternoon in an interview.

All four raced to the river. They didn't know what had happened. They didn't know how many people, if any, were trapped. They didn't know if anyone could survive the 25-foot drop from street level to the water.

Ducey pulled up to a strip mall parking lot off Midland Avenue near River Drive wearing jeans, a jacket and a T-shirt and noticed about seven people standing there looking at the car, a green Ford Explorer. "People were yelling that he was still in there," he said, referring to the driver.

Ducey, who served in the Marines rappelled down a rope he'd lashed onto the Midland Avenue bridge and found two men in the water and a few on the riverbank. One of the men in the river, a 27-year- old Union City resident who had been nearby and rushed to help, was holding the Explorer's door open and holding the driver's head above the water, he said.

Meehan arrived next, wearing only his police uniform, and walked down an embankment to help Ducey. He was quickly followed by Strabone and Marsh, who had pulled on water-rescue suits. The river ranged from 2 to 8 feet deep.

"With one step off a rock, you could be underwater," Marsh said.

They discovered that the car had driven up an incline in the strip mall parking lot, through a fence and down into the river, landing on its roof. The driver had been thrown into the back seat, but his legs were still trapped and tangled up in the front. …

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