What to do if your car plunges into water

A Paulding County woman was able to break a window after her car went into a pond in her yard. Two deputies quickly arrived to help free her.

Credit: Paulding County Sheriff's Office

Credit: Paulding County Sheriff's Office

A Paulding County woman was able to break a window after her car went into a pond in her yard. Two deputies quickly arrived to help free her.

Debbie Ruch didn’t panic.

The Paulding County woman’s car was hit by two others, pushing her into the pond in her front yard. As the red Chevrolet sank, Ruch unbuckled her seatbelt and grabbed a tool she always keeps in her car to break tempered glass.

“It busted the window really fast,” Ruch told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I know I would’ve gotten out. One way or another, I would’ve gotten out.”

Fortunately, two sheriff’s deputies, Carlos Ortiz and Wesley Birjkovff, were in the area on Sept. 27. The two were quickly able to pull the 79-year-old Ruch to safety as the water filled her car. Her dog Claire also survived the ordeal, running to safety.

The collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore left six people missing though two were rescued, according to Maryland authorities. The tragedy serves as a reminder for drivers to prepare.

As many as 400 people drown inside their vehicles each year, according to automotive experts. The AAA motor club notes an increasing number of new cars have side windows made of laminated glass, which is nearly unbreakable and meant to keep people from being ejected during crashes.

Knowing the type of glass is in a vehicle’s side windows is key, along with keeping a tool nearby to help with getting out of the car in case of an emergency, AAA advises.

“To improve safety, more vehicles are being equipped with laminated side windows – but a majority also have at least one window made of tempered glass,” Greg Brannon, director of Automotive Engineering for AAA, said in a media release. “Our research found that generally vehicle escape tools can be effective in an emergency, but only if drivers know what type of side windows they have, otherwise they could waste precious seconds trying to break glass that will not shatter.”

If trapped in a vehicle, remember there is a S-U-R-E way out, according to AAA.

Stay calm, but work quickly and cautiously to ensure everyone gets out safely.

Unbuckle seat belts and make sure everyone is ready to leave the car when it’s time.

Roll down or break windows (tempered). Remember if the car is sinking in water, once the window is open the water will rush into the car at a faster rate.

Exit the vehicle quickly and move everyone to safety.

• Also, call 911. While this is typically the first step in an emergency, if a vehicle is sinking in water or is on fire, it is best to try to escape first.

Deputy Wesley Birjkovff (left) and Deputy Carlos Ortiz received awards for helping save Debbie Ruch from her sinking car.

Credit: Paulding County Sheriff's Office

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Credit: Paulding County Sheriff's Office

For Ruch, growing up near water and having a pond in her yard for 40 years had her prepared for the moment she ended up in her sinking car. She’s grateful she didn’t panic and for the deputies who arrived quickly.

“I’m not gonna panic in water,” she said. “The water came in on my face. It shocked me but I knew what to do.”