ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – An off-duty fire lieutenant stopped to help when troopers said two SUVs went into a pond near Interstate 95 at International Golf Parkway after a crash just before 4 p.m. Monday.
According to the Florida Highway Patrol, the driver of a Toyota Highlander traveling south on the I-95 entrance ramp from eastbound IGP failed to yield to a Chevrolet TrailBlazer traveling south on the I-95 entrance ramp from westbound IGP.
Troopers said the left side of the Highlander struck the right side of the TrailBlazer, and the collision caused both SUVs to go off the road, down the hill and into the pond.
Fortunately, troopers said, the driver of the Highlander, a 60-year-old Jacksonville man, and the driver of the TrailBlazer, Racquel Domingo, were not injured.
Domingo told News4Jax she couldn't swim in the deep water, but Lt. Jerome McIntee, with the Clay County Fire and Rescue Department, saved her.
"I'm glad you were there," Domingo told McIntee, whom she describes as her angel, when they reunited after the crash.
McIntee, who was off-duty at the time, said he had just picked up his son from day care when he saw the aftermath of the crash, two SUVs submerged in water, and immediately stopped.
"I look over and there are two vehicles in the water. One of them was about 50 feet in and the other was about 100 feet in," McIntee said.
He said his firefighter instincts kicked in and he jumped into the water without hesitation.
"People on the bank said, 'She can’t swim.' And as soon as she said, 'I can’t swim,' I handed my hearing aid to somebody and I jumped in and swam over to her, picked her up," McIntee said. "She was halfway in her vehicle and halfway out."
McIntee managed to pull Domingo out of the water as several other witnesses stood by to help.
"The best feeling is seeing her here right now," McIntee said. "When I was leaving earlier, she gave me a hug and said, 'Thank you.' It felt good to be able to help her."
Both McIntee and Domingo are grateful they were in the same place at the same time.
“I’m glad I stopped and I’m glad I turned around and I’m glad I came to help because she didn’t have any time to spare," McIntee said. "It was perfect timing."
Domingo said she planned to go to a hospital to get checked out. The driver of the Highlander said he was able to roll down his window and swim to the shore, where he was greeted by the other witnesses who stopped to help. Both said they're thankful neither of them was seriously injured.
Crews were able to use chains and tow trucks to pull the two SUVs out of the water.
McIntee suggests if you witness a situation like he did and you aren’t trained to rescue, then don’t do it. But if you know how to do something, make a difference.