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Car goes into river; driver escapes & swims to shore

Published: May. 20, 2022 at 7:17 AM EDT
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WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) - It was a miraculous escape Friday morning. A Fort Drum soldier plunged his into the Black River and emerged unscathed.

Watertown fire and police departments were called to Eastern Boulevard around 5:45 a.m. for reports of a driver who sunk his car into the Black River canal.

City detectives say the driver was 20-year-old Jorge Leedham, who lost control of his car while traveling from the town of Pamelia into Watertown.

Witnesses say they watched as Leedham veered across the road, down an embankment, and accelerated through a fence into the water. They say his vehicle sunk almost immediately.

“The vehicle travelled 200 to 250 feet downriver in the current to where it finally sunk into the bottom of the canal,” Watertown Fire Department Battalion Chief Chris Hayman said.

Miraculously, Leedham escaped the submerged car.

He’s very lucky,” Hayman said. “He went in through a fence and into the canal and managed to self-extricate by kicking through a window and got out to the shore.”

He swam to a ladder built into the canal and pulled himself onto the riverbank, where first responders found and evaluated him. They determined he was fine and released him with no charges.

“In the meantime, we were attempting to locate the vehicle in about 30 feet of black cold water,” Hayman said. “We called in the Jefferson County STAR team as well as the New York State Police dive team to do a dive and check for other victims that may be in the vehicle.”

The hydroelectric plant shut down the canal’s current and the Roadside Warriors were able to pull the vehicle out.

State DEC representatives absorbed vehicle fluids in the canal and officials say drinking water will not be affected.

“We got a great bunch of guys that are well trained in swift-water rescue, worked well with our partner agencies to get the job accomplished,” Hayman said.

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