SAN DIEGO – Two San Diego police officers who risked their lives during a rainstorm to save a driver stranded in a flooded underpass spoke out about their actions.
In a 911 call obtained by 10News, the unidentified driver of a van almost completely submerged said, “Hi, I’m flooding, I’m stuck in a car and the car’s flooding and I need help. I’m in front of the Miramar, I don’t know if it’s Miramar, but it’s one of the Marine bases. I’m in Old Town. I’m in front of the Marine base in Old Town under a bridge.”
Moments later, SDPD officers Richard Perkins and Dudley Ward pulled the man to safety as the water rushed quickly around them.
In a Friday afternoon news conference, Perkins, a 14-year veteran of the force, said, “He was yelling for help, trying to have us come and help him. He was reaching out; I could see him waving his arm out the window yelling for help.”
When the officers first arrived at the Witherby Street underpass near Marine Corps Recruit Depot, they saw the driver of a taxi pulling his riders to safety as water rose quickly. The water rushed so fast that within a few minutes, the lights on the top of the cab were completely submerged.
The van was in about two feet of water, but the driver appeared to be OK. The officers said they thought the man would be fine until San Diego Lifeguards and Fire-Rescue teams could arrive, but they were wrong.
“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,'” said Officer Dudley Ward, a five-year SDPD veteran.
“As the water was rising in the vehicle, that’s when I knew something had to be done,” said Perkins. “That’s when I went around and met with Officer Ward and we decided that we had to go in after him.”
The two took off their gun belts and waded into the icy, filthy water. Ward used his non-police issued tool to break the side passenger window, allowing both officers to pull the 20-year-old man out.
Ward and Perkins are being called heroes, but they claim it was all in a day’s work. Ward was on overtime when he responded and Perkins responded because of his familiarity with the underpass.
“I don’t consider myself a hero; I’m just doing my job,” Perkins said.
Ward added, “Anybody else would do the same thing.”
Neither officer has ever been involved in anything like what they experienced Thursday night.
Both were checked out by medical personnel because the water was cold and dirty. Perkins said he received a tetanus booster shot as a precaution.
The road that flooded is a spot known well by both police and San Diego’s Storm Water crews. Because it sits at sea level, it often gets wet during high tides, add to that a storm with heavy rainfall, and debris running downhill, and you’ve got flooding.
“You typically don’t get that confluence of those issues at the same time,” said Bill Harris, a spokesman for the city’s Department of Transportation and Storm Water.
Harris told 10News crews regularly check the spot on Witherby Street during rain events to make sure it drains properly.
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