Officers Richard Perkins and Dudley Ward were first to arrive on scene Thursday night, following a frantic 911 call from the 20-year-old victim.
“I’m stuck in a car but the cars flooding,” the victim told the 911 operator. “I need help!”
When Perkins and Ward arrived at the Witherby Street underpass near the Marine Corps Recruit Depot on Pacific Highway, water was just under the van’s window.
“I could see him waving his arm out the window yelling for help,” said Perkins.
While the victim had the window partially down, an electrical short prevented it from moving any farther.
“At the time I thought we’ve got plenty of time to wait for lifeguards and fire to get there,” said Ward. “Then as we were standing there talking with him, the water was just rising more and more. And at that point I was like ‘ok we’re probably going to have to go after him.’”
Ward grabbed a tool from his patrol car that’s used for breaking windows. The two officers then headed into the cold, murky water.
“As soon as he broke the window, we kind of cleared out the glass,” said Perkins. “I reached in and was able to pull the driver out.”
The victim was cold, suffering from potential hypothermia, according to a SDPD official. Still, the officers had a plan for that, too.
“We just took him straight over to the patrol cars and laid him down on the hood of the car,” said Ward. “Because the engine was about the only thing that we had that was warm at that point. And he was just saying thank you.”
Some would call them heroes, but the two officers are extremely humble.
“I really don’t think of myself as a hero,” said Perkins. “I just think I’m doing my job.”
The officers received treatment at a local hospital due to possible contamination from the water.
A taxi cab was also submerged under the underpass, but the driver and four Marines inside the cab were able to escape on their own.
A SDPD official said the area is prone to flooding, but a water main break contributed to Thursday’s incident.