By Mark E. Vogler
---- — HAVERHILL — Witnesses said a 43-year-old Haverhill man resisted repeated rescue efforts last night after deliberately driving his Toyota Rav4 into Plug Pond, shortly before the 7 o’clock closing at the city’s public beach and recreation area.
But a small group of people dove into the water to save the man after the SUV sunk to the bottom of the pond, with its rooftop the only part that was not submerged in the water.
Police said the man was kept under observation at a local hospital last night.
“I heard the guy say he wanted to die,” said Andrew Rollins, 21, of Haverhill. “The guy almost hit me before he drove into the water. I was reading a text message when I heard somebody speeding in a car behind me. I turned around, and he was just a few feet away. I called 911.”
Bill Zinser, 50, of Haverhill, was paddle-boarding when he heard a loud splash and turned around to see the SUV floating on the pond before it gradually began to sink.
“There were guys trying to pull him out of the car and he was saying something like, ‘What’s the difference?’ He was seat-belted in and he wouldn’t release the seat belt. They were trying to convince him to get out of the car. But he stayed in the car,” Zinser said.
“I thought the car had bottomed out, but it kept sinking and he was under water. My first thought was, ‘Oh man, I’m going to see somebody die tonight.’ But three or four guys went under and pulled him out. The Police and Fire Departments arrived just about the same time they had pulled him out of the water and dragged him to shore,” Zinser said.
Erica Fanaras, 32, of Haverhill, said she had come down to the pond last night with her daughter, son and fiance for a night of fishing and fun. But it ended with a splash and frantic scene of people rushing to the water’s edge to see if they could help people who might be trapped inside a floating car.
“One of the guys who came off the beach and swam out to the car, went to the passenger’s side and then to the driver’s side to see if he could get the guy out of the car,” Fanaras said.
“But the driver was not cooperating at all. He was just waiting for the car to sink. It took about five minutes for the car to go under. As soon as the car started sinking, a bunch of guys went under with it. The ground of the pond kept the car from going completely under,” she said.
“I think those guys saved his life. He only had a few inches of breathing space. It wasn’t much. He had his head up, gasping for air when the guys grabbed him. We’re lucky nobody got seriously injured tonight,” she said.
After watching the SUV go speeding off the shore and into the water, Frank Torres, 13, of Haverhill, said he heard the driver utter what he thought was a death wish.
“The guy said ‘I don’t want to live no more,’” the teen said, as he stood with several other spectators at the shore to watch a crew from Coady’s Towing of Lawrence reel the SUV to land.
“People were trying to help him, but he didn’t want to come out of the car,” he said.