Updated 04/1/11 – 9:00 p.m.
PHOENIX, Ill. (WBBM) – An 87-year-old woman lost control of her car and drove into a retention pond in south suburban Phoenix Friday but was pulled out after emergency responders dove in after her.
Workers at a car repair shop at 153rd Street and Ninth Avenue in Phoenix saw the car go in and called 911. Officer Roberto Frausto was the first on the scene. In five years on the force, he had no training in water rescues and had never participated in one.
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Despite that, Frausto said he never hesitated, diving in. Immediately, he said, he had to fight 6 feet of frigid water and bad footing.
“It was real difficult to step on,” he said. “It’s all the waste from a job site, so the bottom was pretty bad. If you stepped on it, you started sinking down.”
Frausto said that within three to four minutes, he began to shake badly, but said he broke out the front and back windows of the Hyundai attempting to extricate the woman, whom he described as about 5 feet 5 inches tall and heavyset.
A Phoenix Fire Department diver joined him within several minutes, broke another window and managed to extricate the woman. Although unconscious when found, she was quickly revived and transported to Ingalls Memorial Hospital in nearby Harvey.
The victim, identified as Helen Wallace, of the 600 block of East 153rd Street in Phoneix, was in critical condition at Ingalls Memorial Hospital in Harvey, a hospital spokeswoman said.
The accident victim’s neighbors say she is like family. But even before Friday’s incident, they say they worried about the woman’s health.
The car went through a fence into a 15-foot-deep retention pond, known as “Rupari’s Pond,” where it was “totally submerged’’ for 10 minutes before Frausto went into action.
“I heard a sound. And then all of a sudden I see a car airborne,” witness Erick Siliezar said.
Officer Frausto’s co-workers gave him a standing ovation when he returned to the Phoenix Police station, but he said he is no hero.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “That’s just part of doing my job.”
Frausto cut his hand and arm on shattered glass from the car’s windows and also suffered from hypothermia as a result of his dive into the water.
Frausto, who spent four years in the Navy where he learned to swim and dive, will be nominated for a life-saving award, Phoenix Police Chief Mel Davis said.
(The Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report.)