Photos courtesy HCSO & Antonio family
(FOX 2) - A Tampa woman found herself trapped inside her submerged car on New Year’s morning, but survived the incident thanks in part to two sheriff's deputies.
Amanda Antonio was traveling eastbound on foggy Interstate 4 when another driver cut her off as they approached the U.S. Highway 301 exit ramp, troopers said. The 20-year-old lost control of her 2008 Toyota Scion, veered off the highway, and overturned into a deep, water-filled ditch.
Officials with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office said she found an air pocket and called 911. Initially, deputies said they couldn’t find her due to thick fog conditions. The first deputy on scene ventured into the ditch, and said the water was up to his chest.
Danny Alvarez, a spokesperson with the sheriff’s office, said the water level was rising inside the vehicle as first responders tried to reach her.
“Imagine there’s 13 cars going up and down I-4. You know someone is drowning. You can hear them and you don’t want that to be the last call,” he explained. “Imagine you hearing that on the radio, it’s foggy and you can’t find her, but you can hear her. That’s kind of pressure, that kind of stress was intense.”
That’s when deputies Jeremy Pollack and Chris Sullivan, members of HCSO's dive team, grabbed an air line and headed in.
"It was thick, muddy, disgusting water," recalled Pollack.
The driver’s-side door barely budged, but the passenger door did. They dragged her out through there.
"In that scenario, where she was almost encased in mud, there was no way she would have been able to get out of that vehicle on her own," said Pollack.
Wanda Guzman, the fiancée of Amanda’s stepfather, spoke to media from their home in Seffner later Tuesday, while Amanda recovered inside.
"When the operator got onto the phone, she told them, ‘I just got into a car accident, I am in a ditch somewhere, I don't know where I am at.’"
Amanda was six miles from home and on her way back from a New Year's Eve party.
"The police couldn't find her," said her stepfather, Julio Perez. "She only had four percent [charge] on her phone."
She used the map function on her phone to guide dispatchers while they, in turn, tried to keep her from giving up.
"She said she was literally seconds, she was scared, she knew this was it," said Guzman. "She wanted to call us, that's when the lady said, ‘Wait a minute, someone must be there.’"
Rescuers arrived got there as the water rose dangerously close to her nose.
"She was like, ‘It was already past my lip,’ that she was breathing through her nose, pretty much," said Guzman. "(She) heard somebody saying, ‘Are you there, are you there? Can you hear me?’ That's when she started screaming at the top of her lungs."
“We were lucky enough to find her and help save the day,” Alvarez offered.
Amanda, who hopes to become a doctor, was released from the hospital three hours later, without any serious injuries.
"They are angels," Perez said of the dispatchers and deputies. "Thank you so much. Hopefully we get to meet them at least, anything we can do for them. We are very lucky. Crazy way to start the year, but we are very thankful."
"When she says the story, she cries," added Guzman. "She is scared, she says, ‘Mom, I was about to die. That was it, I thought I was gone.’"