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Drunken driver rescued after plunge into river

Becky Vargo • Jul 6, 2018 at 7:00 AM

NUNICA — A 64-year-old man was rescued after his car plunged into the Grand River late last week, only to be charged with drunken driving.

The man, whose name was not available, suffered minor injuries.

Emergency crews responded to the Grand Marina, 15078 120th Ave. in Nunica, after an SUV missed a curve and went into the marina basin at about 11:30 p.m. Friday, June 29.

Dori Stewart was on the deck of a nearby house when she heard squealing tires and a “huge bang.” She looked toward the sounds and saw headlights and taillights flashing.

“I literally saw this vehicle go airborne,” she said. “He was flying, really flying.”

Stewart yelled at her roommate to wake up, that a car had just gone into the river.

Marina manager Ron Hammond said he rushed to his rowboat, which was sitting next to the boat launch in the basin, and rowed over to the sinking car.

“He was trying to open his door,” Hammond said of the driver. “I hollered, ‘Don’t open the door, open the window.’”

The man in the SUV, which was nosedown in the basin, was able to crawl through the window and into the rowboat, with Hammond’s help.

It wasn’t long before all that was visible of the car were its taillights, just a few inches below the water’s surface. Crockery Township firefighters and Ottawa County Sheriff’s deputies arrived at that point.

According to Hammond, the man was checked by paramedics but declined to go to the hospital. Deputies took the driver away in a patrol car.

Brandon Clark was staying in a tent nearby when the car plunged into the river.

“I heard something that sounded like a firework going up,” he said a few days later. “It must have been the car hitting the pole,” pointing to a steel post bent completely over. 

Clark added: “Thank God for Ron (Hammond). If it hadn’t been for him and his rowboat, the guy might not have survived.”

Hammond said the car was probably in 6-8 feet of water, but may have sunk down into the mud.

The man was headed to a nearby campsite when he missed the 90-degree curve in the road, drove over the dock and into the basin, said Capt. John Wolffis of the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office.

“It’s so quiet and peaceful here,” Stewart said. “You never would have dreamed of something like this happening.”

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