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April 19, 2013

Men save Windham woman after car lands in brook

Six strangers team up to rescue accident victim

LONDONDERRY — They started off the day as six complete strangers. But day’s end, they were a team of heroes.

After Laurie Donofrio, 43, of Windham drove off Gilcreast Road and into Beaver Brook, five passers-by and a nearby resident immediately jumped into the water and rescued an unconscious Donofrio.

The six men pulled her from her black Toyota Camry and carried her to safety, all before first responders arrived.

“These men are the heroes in this call,” acting fire Chief Darren O’Brien said. “If it wasn’t for them, this would have been a significantly different outcome.”

Donofrio was heading north on Gilcreast Road just before 2 p.m. when her car hit a guardrail, rolled and landed on its roof in Beaver Brook.

Londonderry police Lt. Kevin Cavallaro said Donofrio suffered from some kind of medical event while driving.

“I was in my house and I heard this crazy noise,” said Doug Ball, who lives on Gilcreast Road. “I knew it wasn’t normal. I saw a tree waving back and forth, and I immediately knew it was an accident.”

Ball rushed out of his house and across the street. He was joined by Craig Dempsey of Windham, Mike Elliott of Derry, Bernie Rouillard of Windham, Jim Ornsteen of Londonderry and Robert Maiella of Derry. Each of them had pulled their cars over and immediately entered the water to rescue Donofrio.

The car was on its roof and Donofrio was submerged in the water. The men tried to open the passenger side door, which was the only one accessible, but the door was locked.

“I yelled to (Ball) to get a pry bar out of my truck,” Ornsteen said.

The men tried to pry the door open, but couldn’t.

They tried a different tactic.

“We knew we didn’t have much time,” Ball said. “The car was totally upside down and the water was up to the handles of the door. The only place she would have been able to breathe was where the feet were.”

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