1-26 river rescue photo

A 25-year-old Buchanan woman was rescued by police Monday morning after she swerved to avoid a deer, sending her car over a ledge into the St. Joseph River, off East River Road near Buchanan. The woman was taken to the hospital and treated for non life-threatening injuries.

BUCHANAN — A 25-year-old Buchanan woman was saved from icy water Monday morning, Jan. 25, after her car careened off the road and ended up on its roof in the St. Joseph River in Buchanan Township.

The driver, who was not named by police, was found unbuckled sitting inside the vehicle on the roof in a few inches of water talking on her cell phone with the 911 operator, said city of Buchanan Police Officer Don Leonard, one of the first officers on the scene.

“I was yelling at her through the windows and broke one of them out and she was unable to get out until we got the Jaws of Life there,” he said.

Buchanan Police Officer Dave Capron, also one of the first on the scene, said she couldn’t get out through the window because the roof was partially caved in.

“It is very fortunate that she was able to find her phone and call 911,” Leonard said.

While waiting for the Buchanan Township Fire Department to arrive with the hydraulic rescue tool, he said they tried using a pry bar to get her out, with no luck.

Also on the scene were personnel from the Michigan State Police, the Berrien County Sheriff’s Department and the Southwestern Michigan Community Ambulance Service.

Leonard said he’s not certain how long the driver was in the water. He said they received the call at 7:29 a.m. and stayed on the scene until the vehicle was removed from the water at 9 a.m. But he said that was after the driver had been taken by ambulance to Lakeland Hospital in Niles.

He said they don’t know her condition.

“Once they got her out of the water, she was able to walk on her own and walked to the ambulance to warm up,” Capron said.

Leonard and Capron said they responded to the scene even though it wasn’t in the city limits, which is standard procedure.

“When there’s a priority call, when there’s life in danger, we respond,” Capron said. “It’s a very short distance from the city limits.”

State trooper Zachary Dorr, who was on the scene, said his agency took over the investigation once they arrived.

He said the driver was traveling on East River Road when she swerved to avoid a deer and lost control. He said the vehicle hit a utility pole and two trees before going off a ledge and into the river.

“I’m thankful that she clipped a tree before she went into the water. Otherwise, she might have gone out farther,” Dorr said.

He said the driver’s injuries appeared to not be life threatening.

In a state police news release, motorists are reminded not to swerve if they encounter a deer or other animals on the road.

“Instead of swerving, just slow down as quickly and safely as you can,” the release stated. “Swerving to avoid an animal can put you at risk for hitting another vehicle or losing control of your car. It can also confuse the animal as to which way to go. Your odds for surviving an accident are better when hitting an animal than when hitting another car or object.”

Contact: lwrege@TheHP.com, 932-0361, Twitter: @HPWrege

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