LAWRENCE — The driver who plunged a Ford pickup truck into the icy waters of the North Canal told police he had a seizure and passed out behind the wheel on Sunday night, according to police.
The black F150 truck, with the driver and three passengers inside, went through a barrier at Franklin Street and landed in the North Canal behind the former Lawton's hot dog building adjacent to Broadway at 9:40 p.m. Sunday, according to authorities.
One person was pulled from the frigid water by bystanders. Three others were rescued by Lawrence firefighters who donned specialized ice survival suits and went into the canal at Franklin Street, said Deputy Chief John McInnis.
McInnis said seven firefighters, in the survival suits, went into the canal and helped three men who appeared to be in their 20s. The temperature was 32 degrees and it was snowing at that time Sunday night.
The firefighters helped them to safety using ground ladders that were lowered into the canal, McInnis said.
Neither the driver nor his three passengers were seriously injured, but they were exposed to the icy water. They were taken to Lawrence General Hospital to be checked for exposure and possible injuries, McInnis said.
"It was another good job by the Lawrence Fire Department," said McInnis.
Fire Chief Brian Moriarty noted both the air and the water were "very, very cold" and the young men "had lost dexterity in their hands," a symptom of emerging hypothermia.
Lawrence firefighters routinely undergo water and ice rescue training in the survival suits, nicknamed "Gumby" suits by the ranks.
"We train extensively for this reason," he said, noting the Merrimack River "is never safe."
The truck, submerged in roughly 6 feet of water, was left in the canal until early Monday afternoon. Workers from Coady's Towing in Lawrence, assisted by police and firefighters, pulled out the pickup, which had visible damage to its hood from the canal.
It was too dangerous to remove the truck from the canal on Sunday night due to the ongoing storm, McInnis said.
When police arrived at the scene Sunday night, officers said they saw the truck's taillights in the water. A witness said he saw a vehicle in the river and person climbing out of the water soaking wet, according to authorities.
That person turned out to be the driver, who was shaking uncontrollably and having trouble speaking with police because he was so cold, police said.
He told officers he was he was driving south on Franklin Street when he suffered a seizure and passed out. His passengers corroborated this, saying they saw him pass out and they were yelling at him to wake up when the truck went into the water, police said.
Police did not identify the driver or passengers involved. No citations were issued and the crash remains under investigation.
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