Life-saving technology: Local woman credits app for quick response after accident

Published 9:00 am Saturday, September 3, 2022

Pamela Dennis credits an app, the quick response of local law enforcement and a prayer for her rescue when her car left the road and began sinking into a canal. She wants more families to benefit from the app and know how to respond if this happens to them.

“My granddaughter was in her carseat in the back. I had just picked up a puppy no one wanted, and we were almost to our exit when it jumped down onto the floorboard,” Dennis said.

Dennis has what she needs to secure her pets, but this rescue was supposed to be handed off in its kennel. She took the nearest exit with the intent of securing the dog, but it was too late.

“As I went to brake, the dog got in the way,” she said. “I avoided some concrete piers, but headed down into a small canal,” she said. “If you would have asked me how deep it was, I would have said four or five feet.”

Later, she was told it was 10-feet deep.

“Water started coming in, and I jumped in the backseat and called 911,” but the operator couldn’t hear me over the screams of my granddaughter,” Dennis said.

The 4-year-old couldn’t swim. The doors wouldn’t open. The windows wouldn’t open.

“I think it’s called crash-locked,” Dennis said. “I found out later that some vehicles are equipped with this as a safety feature. It prevents a person from being thrown from a vehicle and more likely to survive. That’s what I was told. One door was bent. The windows wouldn’t go down. They’re electrical, so I guess that’s why.”

Dennis, her two daughters and two others use a family safety app that allows them to see the precise, real-time location of friends and family members, including the speed at which they are driving and the battery level of their devices.

“Everyone got an alert suggesting I might have been involved in an accident,” Dennis said. “They tried to check on me and when I didn’t answer, they called the Vinton police department.”

With water to her chest, holding her granddaughter and assuring her everything was going to be alright, Dennis said she began to “freak out.” Then, she heard a police officer trying to smash out the back glass.

“I passed them Ellie,” she said, “but the car was going under.”

She passed them the dog.

“I wasn’t thinking. I didn’t think I could fit through the opening and water was pouring through,” she said.

The water was like mud and she couldn’t see anything.

“I don’t know if two minutes or 15 seconds passed, but I stopped and prayed for Ellie not to remember this, not to remember her grandmother drowning in a car, and it was then I thought, ‘I’ve got to get out of here.’ ”

Dennis said Vinton police officers David Lyons and Sgt. Dempsey LaVergne were heroes and underplayed their role in saving her and her granddaughter. The day after, Dennis read a news story with a happy ending and knew she had to tell everyone about the app. She admits that although the app may not prevent everyone from becoming a victim, she feels the app could certainly benefit investigators after the fact.

“God forbid, but I’ve also learned some things about what to do if this should ever happen to me again.

About 400 people in the United States drown from these types of accidents every year.

That’s roughly 10 percent of all drowning accidents.

Dennis has purchased a tool for herself and family members with a seatbelt cutter on one side and window glass breaker on the other. It doesn’t work for the front or back glass because of its thickness.

Electric power may not go out immediately, but don’t count on it. Once the window motors and/or switches get soaked, they will generally short out and no longer operate.

“All my life I’ve heard and seen on TV that if you wait until the car is fully submerged, the doors will open,” she said. “That’s the biggest myth out there. In fact, I think that should be on an episode of ‘Myth Busters.’ ”

Vinton Police Chief Scott Spell suggested that time is limited when it comes to self-rescue. Because of the angled nose-down position of the vehicle, it might be difficult or impossible to open the doors. Windows may not go down.

“First of all, I’d like to remind drivers to be cautious during flooding,” he said. “It only takes six inches of water to sweep a person off his/her feet, and it only takes one- to two-feet of water to float a vehicle off its wheels. Don’t attempt to cross flooded highways.”

He said wearing a seat belt does increase chances of survival if a car crashes into the water. All vehicles sink. Several factors impact how long before they are submerged.

“Take your seatbelt off, open or break the windows, get children to safety first then get out,” is my recommendation, he said.

He also recommends that everyone carry a device like Dennis mentioned that can cut a seatbelt and break a window.

“These tools are beneficial not only in water, but if the vehicle is on fire, you’re trapped due to vehicle damage from a crash or if you need the tool to help someone else,” he said. “However, if someone does find themselves trapped inside their vehicle without a device, most vehicles have removable headrests with metal posts that can be used to break a window.”