After car rolls into icy creek, teen ‘incredibly lucky’

Matt Burge and George Lamborn haven’t seen it much, but they knew exactly what to do when they found a woman trapped in her car, upside down, in the water Tuesday morning. KYLE GRANTHAM/THE NEWS JOURNAL

Author: Brittany Horn, The News Journal

The young woman had been trapped, submerged in her car, for several minutes in icy Red Clay Creek by the time rescuers arrived.

Then for nearly 10 minutes, members of the Hockessin Fire Company worked to free her, struggling to keep her head above the water line.

“She’s incredibly lucky,” said Matt Burge, one of two firefighters who jumped into the creek. “She could have possibly perished.”

For an as-yet-unknown reason, the 2002 Honda Accord that Emily Earnest, 18, was driving along Creek Road in Centreville on Tuesday morning rolled into the creek near Snuff Mill Road, hitting a rock on the way into the water, said George Lamborn, station manager at Hockessin Fire Company.

She was on her regular route to school, said her mother, Doreen Earnest. “That curve in the road, she must have hit some ice,” Earnest said.

The car was upside down, propped against a large rock in the creek, Lamborn said. It’s ultimately the rock that kept the vehicle from completely overturning and submerging.

Despite being strapped in with her seat belt, the Hockessin teen managed to hold herself above water while firefighters from Hockessin and Cranston Heights worked to free her.

“She did everything she could do to keep her head above water,” Lamborn said.

Her mother was able to get to the scene before the ambulance left, so she could ride to the hospital with her daughter. “We were very lucky,” she said.

When the phone rang shortly after her daughter left for school and she heard about the crash, her heart just sank, Earnest said.

Her first words over the phone were, “Is she OK?”

She was. The teen was suffering from hypothermia and had a minor concussion, but she was able to speak coherently, her mother said. She was rushed into a trauma room at the hospital that was crowded with about 20 people and was sent home to rest later on Tuesday.

Calls like Tuesday morning’s report of an overturned, sinking vehicle are pretty rare, Lamborn said. In his more than 20 years of firefighting, Lamborn said Tuesday’s was just his second such rescue.

Hockessin Fire Company received the call at about 7:21 a.m. Roads were still slick from overnight freezing rain and snow showers.

The Delaware State Police, which is conducting the crash investigation, has not said what caused the crash.

Bystanders quickly informed Burge and Lamborn that the driver was still inside the car, which was sinking into the freezing water at a rapid pace. Without much thought, the two men jumped in and got to work.

“When we jumped in, we jumped through ice,” Lamborn said, spreading his fingers about 3 inches to show how thick the ice was.

“I used some bad words,” he said with a laugh. “It was cold.”

The two firefighters had to break open the car window and cut Earnest’s seat belt before they were able to pull her to safety. First, they wanted to get her out of the water and out of the cold, Burge said.

She was “frantic,” Lamborn said, and definitely wanted someone to help her. No bystanders had entered the water before the firefighters arrived, he said.

New Castle County Paramedics treated her for a head injury and cold exposure, said paramedic Sgt. Abigail E. Haas. She was transported to Christiana Hospital, where she was initially admitted in serious but stable condition, Haas said.

Burge and Lamborn were evaluated for cold exposure at the crash site, much to their displeasure, they said with smiles.

“We just wanted warmth,” Lamborn said. “And our guys did that. They took good care of us.”

Neither suffered any injuries from the response.

By afternoon, both men were responding to more calls – Tuesday’s wet weather made for downed power lines and other issues that needed their response.

When it comes down to it, they said, neither Lamborn nor Burge did anything out of the ordinary. Jumping into cold water, running into burning buildings, helping people out of bad situations – it’s exactly what they get paid to do.

“I would have stopped anyway,” Burge said. “I could have been driving home from work. That’s just what you do. We were doing our jobs.”

News Journal reporter Saranac Hale Spencer contributed to this story.

Contact Brittany Horn at (302) 324-2771 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @brittanyhorn.

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