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Saturday, February 25, 2017

Car Into Water, One Dead, One Rescued

UPDATE Screams from a woman in the Saugatuck River touched off a massive search and rescue operation tonight after a car went into the water in Westport’s Saugatuck section.

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Emergency responders in the Saugatuck River tonight. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Westport Police photo

Firefighters pulled her from the water, and a search was launched for her husband, according to emergency workers at the scene and a later police statement.

He was found floating in the river about an hour and five minutes after the first 911 call and was pronounced dead at Norwalk Hospital, police said. Police Sunday morning identified him as Richard La Mendola, 76, of Syosset, New York.

The incident began when diners from The Whelk Restaurant, 575 Riverside Ave., overlooking the water heard the woman’s screams and alerted police at 7:39 p.m. 

Police and fire units converged on the area and soon spotted her in the middle of the swiftly moving water that was carrying her up the river as she continued to call for help.

Two firefighters quickly donned cold water rescue suits, commandeered a boat from the Saugatuck Rowing Club, and got her out of the water just before 8 p.m. The club is about a quarter mile north of where the car went into the water.

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Westport police closed off the William F. Cribari Memorial Bridge while they searched for a man missing in the water. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) WestportNow.com photo

“She was screaming for help, and then when they pulled her from the water, all she kept saying was ‘my husband, my husband,’ so she was worried about her husband who was in the car in the water,” witness Michele Manos told WABC-TV. ” It was frantic, very frantic.”

Then the hunt started for her husband. After an agonizing search, emergency workers at 8:37 p.m. finally located the submerged car on the other side of the river opposite The Black Duck Cafe off the state boat ramp near the I-95 Bridge.

Even before the car was located, firefighters and police in a boat under hastily erected floodlights began a patterned search near the boat ramp. Other fire units searched portions of the river north of the William F. Cribari Memorial Bridge.

While they scoured the river, an officer on duty keeping traffic off of the bridge radioed at 8:43 p.m. that she spotted the man floating in the water at the bridge’s northern end near Imperial Avenue.

EMS personnel, who had staged at a command post set up at the nearby Engine Co. 4’s headquarters overlooking the river, responded next door to the dock behind The Whelk where the victim was taken by a fire boat.

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Emergency lights shine at a boat ramp on the east side of the Saugatuck River off Elaine Road where the car went into the water. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) WestportNow.com photo

They continued CPR begun by firefighters on the boat and immediately transported him to Norwalk Hospital.

It was not known why the car, with New York plates, went into the water. A heavy rainstorm was moving through the area at about the time of the incident. The victims had been visiting relatives who live not far away, according to rescuers.

The woman, who was taken to Norwalk Hospital in apparently non life-threatening condition, managed to tell rescuers that her 76-year-old husband had been with her in the car. But she couldn’t remember how the car came to be in the water.

A subsequent obituary for Richard La Mendola identified her as Stephanie La Mendola.

The combined police and fire dive team was summoned to pull the car from the water with the first diver in the water at 9:01 p.m.

The Norwalk Fire Department fireboat also responded along with units from the state police and Fairfield, which sent an engine to cover fire headquarters.

Police closed off the William F. Cribari Memorial Bridge to traffic as they searched for the missing man. It was opened shortly after 10 p.m.

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Police units at the northern end of the William F. Cribari Memorial Bridge — the Imperial Avenue side — where a man was found floating in the water. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) WestportNow.com photo

A tow truck working with the dive team removed the vehicle from the water at 10:45 p.m.

Lt. David Farrell said no foul play is suspected, and the incident continues to be investigated by police.

Fire Chief Rob Yost was on the scene little more than 24 hours after taking over from retiring Andrew Kingsbury. So was Deputy Fire Chief Bob Kepchar. Police Chief Foti Koskinas commanded police units at the scene with assistance from Deputy Police Chief Sam Arciola.

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Posted 02/25/17 at 09:15 PM  Permalink



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