Rescuers on icy crash: ‘It really does restore your faith in people’

Courtesy: Jim Graham

LEO, Ind. (WANE) – Thanks to a few Good Samaritans and a brave sheriff’s deputy, a local man is alive after his car crashed into an icy pond in Leo Thursday. Two of those first on the scene sat down with NewsChannel 15 Friday to talk more about those moments that made made all of the difference.

Click here to read the original story of the crash.

For Deputy Kenny Litzenberg and Jim Graham, State Road 1 in Leo is a familiar route. For the better part of eleven years, one man has patrolled the area and the other has driven it to and from work every day, but such routine sights quickly turned foreign during Thursday’s commute.

“I honestly thought it was that simple. I thought I was looking at somebody texting and driving and crossing the center line,” Jim Graham said.

The car in front of Graham kept going, hitting several trees and landing in the icy pond below. After calling 911, Graham rushed to help.

“I ran down to the car and at that point I couldn’t see any movement in the car at all. At that point the car is still running and the radio is playing and I was yelling for the guy and no response,” Graham said. “I could not see in the front seat at all. The front seat at that point, the window was below the water level pretty much.”

As Graham made it to the back of the car, he saw the driver crawling toward the trunk. By this time, several Amish men working on a nearby house had also run over and jumped in to help.

“When I kicked the window out, the car started to slide even deeper. So I grabbed a hold of the car and it stabilized,” Graham said.

That’s when Deputy Litzenberg with the Allen County Sheriff’s Department arrived on scene, grabbed a crowbar from his car, and started running to help the men.

“I wasn’t too far away, so I just remember wanting to get there as quick and fast as possible. I ran along the pond to try to get to him. I actually saw the car slide another three to four inches down towards the middle of the pond. You know, your heart just sinks. Without skipping a beat, Jim jumped down in the water and grabbed a hold of the side of that car,” Litzenberg said. “The Amish guys were right behind him grabbing a hold of his belt and shirt and whatever else they could get a hold of just to try and keep him and the car from going further in. I’ve been in a lot of stressful and different situations, but nothing quite like that.”

“He made a mad dash for the car, dropping gear on the way and dove in the water with me,” Graham said.

As Deputy Litzenberg started to break the back window with a crowbar, the face inside instantly became a familiar one.

“I was 90 percent sure who it was when I looked through the window. When I heard him yelling for help, I knew that was his voice,” Litzenberg said.

Turns out bodies of water are a common meeting spot for the two men who first met when the driver helped Deputy Litzenberg work on his own pond.

“It’s kind of nice to be able to at least return the favor. I told him that I’d rather meet him like we did last time as opposed to these circumstances. He agreed,” Litzenberg said.

Together, the men pulled the driver to safety.

“Those people were right there when I needed them too. They were helping me as much as I was helping them,” Litzenberg said. “It’s a good feeling to look around and realize that six other strangers dropped everything they were doing and ran to help somebody they had no clue who he is. You know, they didn’t think about how dangerous it was grabbing a hold of that car and getting drug into the water. They just did it, and it’s a good feeling to know that you live and patrol in an area where that happens.”

When the men got the driver to the shore, Litzenberg asked him if anyone else was in the car with him.

“He’s like nope, just God was with me,” Graham said.

Graham agrees.

“Oh yeah, he wasn’t alone,” Graham said.

These two rescuers are an unlikely but perfect pair. Litzenberg considers ice fishing a favorite hobby,

“The cold didn’t bother me. The ice didn’t bother me. Just the circumstances bothered me,” Litzenberg said.

Jim Graham spends his days teaching students the ins and outs of the auto industry.

“I know how tough windows are,” Graham said.

They’re two experts in cars and cold who can now add lifesaver to their skill set.

“A lot of times unfortunately you do remember the bad ones or the people you couldn’t help, and what’s nice about this is it had a real happy ending,” Litzenberg said. “I remember sitting there, looking around, and thinking that these guys, there’s a lot of people that would’ve drove right by, called 911, and just kept on driving. The fact that the guy that saw it happen stopped, called 911, and went to help and then six other guys that were just there working their normal work day and turned around and here they’re helping somebody in a life and death struggle, it really does restore your faith in people. It was real nice to see, it’s a good feeling.”

“I think it’s all there in all of us, I would hope. I don’t think I did anything special, and I would hope somebody would do that for me,” Graham said.

Litzenberg said the driver is also to thank for Thursday’s outcome.

“For him to be able to unbuckle himself and get back there to even give us a chance to get him out is a feat in itself. He did a good job, and he’s part of the reason he’s alive today, too,” Litzenberg said.

The driver did end up going to the hospital Thursday night, but is expected to be okay.

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