GH man credited with rescuing passenger from partially submerged car

ROBINSON TOWNSHIP - The driver swerved to miss a deer shortly after midnight Wednesday. He lost control and the car went into a water-filled ditch, rolling over on its top. Charles Denman, 24, of Allendale Township, was able to get out of his vehicle - but his passenger, Joel Apol, 24, also of the Allendale Township area, was not, said Lt. Lee Hoeksma of the Ottawa County Sheriff's Department. A disoriented Denman still managed to run down the gravel road to M-45 to get some help.
Becky Vargo
Apr 7, 2011

Bryan Celano, 20, of Grand Haven was driving west on M-45, on his way home from Grand Valley State University, where he is a student.

“Out of nothing, a man jumped into my lane, flagging me down,” Celano said. “I almost hit him.”

Celano said the man had blood on his forehead.

“He told me he had gotten into an accident and his friend was still in the car,” Celano said. “I didn’t see anything, so I followed him down a side road — and, as I was pulling up, you could see the taillights.”

Celano said the car was upside down in a deep flood ditch, with the front of the car mostly submerged in the water.

A criminal justice student at GVSU, Celano said he handed his cell phone to Denman, the man who had flagged him down, and told him to call 911.

“As he was doing that, I jumped into the water,” Celano said.

It was pitch dark and the doors he could reach were locked. Celano said he ran out of the water to his car and retrieved a tire iron and screwdriver.

Celano said he couldn’t get enough momentum to even crack the window because of the water, which was up to his chest.

“I could hear the guy inside trying to call for help, but not making much sense,” he said.

In the meantime, Denman was trying to get help, but couldn’t give Ottawa County Central Dispatch an exact location.

“We didn’t know what road we were on,” Celano said.

Still waiting for help to find them, Celano again went back to his car and retrieved a metal flashlight, hoping that would be heavy enough to break into the car. It didn’t work.

“I decided to go deeper in the water,” Celano said.

Although it was dark, Celano said he could see that the car was full of water, and that the passenger had managed to get his head into an air pocket between the dashboard and the windshield.

“The whole time I was in the water, I could hear this guy calling for his friend,” Celano said.

Feeling like time was running out, Celano said he had a rush of adrenaline and was able to get the front passenger door — which was unlocked — slightly open. A little at a time, he was finally able to get his body between the door and the car, and grab hold of Apol’s ankle.

“I had him hold his breath and pulled him out,” Celano said.

It was about that time that one of the first-responders arrived on the scene on what turned out to be 136th Avenue, and radioed the location to other emergency personnel.

Celano said the two men were in shock, but were otherwise OK and refused to go to the hospital.

The 2009 Grand Haven High School graduate said he was only in his first semester at GVSU, and that it was his emergency medical technician training at Baker College that helped.

“The EMT stuff made me be able to handle the stress of the situation and think clearly,” Celano said. “But I think any able-bodied person would have done the same thing.”

“He went out without thinking about himself,” Lt. Hoeksma said of Celano. “He went in the water not once, not twice — but a third time. He was in the right place at the right time to use the gifts that he’s go. I do think his actions did save the guy’s life.”

Celano said today he has since become Facebook friends with the two men since the incident and that they had told him they were doing fine.

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