Our community recently suffered a heartbreaking loss when 51-year-old Lisa Roswell's car was swept away by floodwaters. The horrifying scene splashed across local newspapers as her body was recovered in her Volkswagen Beetle convertible after it was extracted from the mucky, icy water 24-hours after she disappeared.
It's only natural, I think, during situations such as this, to question why bad things happen to good people; and Lisa was, by all accounts, an exceptionally good person. I did not know her personally, but I share my community's grief in losing an effervescent, compassionate, and charitable woman who left behind a devoted husband, three beloved children, and a fifteen-year career as a dedicated nurse.
I, like most people, want answers; however, I'm aware that none may ever come.
I'm not sure there is any one person to blame, although I've contributed my fair share of finger pointing at several entities. Why wasn't the road closed? Who was responsible for closing the road in that area? And, if the county was that backed up due to a high volume of emergency calls, why weren't troopers, sheriff's deputies, and ODOT employees called in early? This disaster, however tragic, was not caused by people - it was a crisis over which we, the people, had little control; but, I believe it was preventable.
Certainly, I question those charged with the responsibility of keeping our community safe, and I really don't care who is/was responsible for monitoring township roads or county roads or state roads - a woman is dead because people passed the buck. As we all know, it's a collective effort and there is no "I" in team. The safety of all citizens should be of paramount concern and it saddens me that somebody was asleep at the wheel on this one.
From the onset, it appears that most of the parties involved that fateful day have been more interested in rallying to defend their actions and/or the actions of their subordinates - from the 911 dispatcher to Norwalk Township; from the Ridgefield Township trustees (who continue to remain silent) to the Huron County Sheriff's Office.
A local resident stepped forward and disclosed that she alerted the Huron County Sheriff's Office of the hazardous road conditions an hour before Lisa Roswell was swept away, and Sheriff Dane Howard reported that his office was doing an internal review of the response to find out what actually occurred. However, Sherriff Dane Howard, in his internal review report, appears more interested in arguing semantics than in the procedures taken, or not taken, that lead to Lisa Roswell's untimely and tragic death. In an interview with the Norwalk Reflector, Sheriff Howard stated, "You can 'Monday Morning Quarterback' us all you want to. The truth is they did the best they could under the circumstances."
Seriously, a woman lost her life and Sheriff Dane Howard compares the outpouring of criticism to a football game.
I am attempting to deal with this tragedy with understanding and compassion for everyone involved; I did not know this woman, yet I continue to be haunted by Lisa Roswell's last moments as her car filled with water and inevitably became her tomb. I cannot imagine the fear she felt as she took her last breath and pleaded with a dispatcher for help. I cannot imagine what went through her mind as she sat helplessly, trapped inside her car, sinking deeper into obscurity, until her fragile biological entity was swallowed up by the wrath of Mother Nature.
I can't detach. I can't bury my head in the sand and chant Que Sera, Sera.
A recent article in the Sandusky Register produced many comments by concerned citizens, but one in particular, from a rescue diver and 25-year member of the Indiana State Police, caused me to question why things were handled the way they were.
"The car is your tomb," said Robert May, Indiana State Police Underwater Search and Recovery Team, "There is no rescue unit in the world that will save you if stay in a sinking car."
May instructs drivers who find themselves submerged in flooded roadways to immediately get out of the car, yet the dispatcher talking with Lisa instructed her to stay in her vehicle and wait for help to arrive, as evidenced in Lisa's call to 911.
Robert May is a master diver and his tips for Escaping a Car in the Water could save a life; or, at the very least, increase the chance of survival should one ever find themselves at the mercy of Mother Nature.
1. Unbuckle your seat belt
2. Roll your window down or BREAK GLASS
3. Go out of the window and get to the top of your car (like a NASCAR driver, this should take less than 20 seconds), get everyone out with you
4. Think about the best way to get to the shore while on top of your car or wait there for help
5. Stay on top of your car and ride it like a boat; assess the situation - it will probably snag on something and be partially above water
6. Call for help AFTER you have escaped the car. Modern cars will float from 1 to 3 minutes. Chances are in most lakes and rivers, your car will not completely submerge, and you can wait for help, ON TOP OF YOUR CAR.
7. Get out while the car is on the surface, you probably won't even get wet. If you have children with you put them on top of the car first.
8. NEVER open the car door, always go out the window. Opening the door allows water to enter quickly, will cause the car to tip, and will trap the other occupants.
9. DON'T use your cell phone until you are out of your car, use all your time to get out. Save yourself first.
10. DON'T panic
11. DON'T ride the car to the bottom or let it fill up with water
12. DON'T swim for it unless no other choice
13. DON'T return to the interior to retrieve personal effects
In December 2008, Sergeant Christopher Lambert and Detective Robert May led Indiana State Police Underwater Search and Recovery Team in a demonstration of how to survive a vehicle submerged in water. The demonstration was completed utilizing a very small budget to produce an instructional DVD as a public service announcement. These efforts led to updating incorrect information in the Indiana Driver's manual relating to surviving a vehicle submerged in water. In October 2010, Sergeant Christopher Lambert and Detective Robert May received Meritorious Service Awards for their dedication, bravery, and devotion.
Driving through floodwaters is precarious; while it may look safe ahead, it's oftentimes difficult to assess the situation responsibly during such conditions. We really don't know the perils awaiting us, especially at night, when many drowning and near deaths occur because it's difficult to see water crossings - roads may be washed out, potholes can be covered in water, and a car can float away in only a foot of water, reports the Indiana Department of Homeland Security
It is interesting to note that the State of Ohio does not list any safety precautions in its Driver's Exam manual for a vehicle submerged in water, nor is there a universal protocol available to 911 dispatchers for submerged vehicles.
Obviously, it's time for change.
Perhaps we can follow the standard of the Indiana State Police and revamp our Driver's Exam manual to include a section on safety precautions in submerged vehicle situations, upgrade our universal protocol for 911 dispatchers, and arm citizens with enough knowledge to participate in saving their own lives. Placing permanent high-water warning signs, lights, and a guardrail along the section of South Norwalk Road - the area that claimed Lisa's life, may help prevent such a future tragedy; whatever it takes, even if it means increasing taxes.
If there's any lesson to be learned from this tragedy, perhaps it's that we cannot underestimate the vast complexity of Mother Nature. Try as we might to prepare, we may still find ourselves at the mercy of the forces of nature; and while no two situations are alike, and none among us can claim with certainty how we'd react or respond in a similar situation, I, for one, will never again drive through standing water, even if the water appears shallow enough to cross.