Pregnant woman trapped after car flips into stream

January 30, 1994|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Staff Writer

When Barbara Ann Harkless' car began spinning early yesterday on Old Philadelphia Road, a mile from her house near North East, in Cecil County, she fought desperately to regain control.

The 32-year-old pregnant mother of three girls said she remembers the spinning, the car hitting a small embankment, turning over, the air bag expanding.

And then, she said, she was upside down in the icy-cold water of Broad Creek. Little did she know that she would survive, but that she would not be rescued for an hour.

"I got my belt off. Water was coming in, and I was trying to kick the door open. I thought I was going to drown. It was so dark in there, and I couldn't see," she said yesterday afternoon. "I don't remember anything else until I woke up here," she said, from her bed at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore.

Charles Edward Racine, 33, of Charlestown, said he was the first person to reach Mrs. Harkless after stopping to investigate the skid marks he saw. He had seen at least four other cars pass without slowing.

Mr. Racine, who was driving to an auction in North East, said he stopped because "I have heard stories about how people run off the road and bleed to death because no one stopped to investigate."

Mrs. Harkless' rescue after an hour in the freezing, submerged car, was the most dramatic of a rash of dawn accidents caused by icy patches on Baltimore streets and Maryland's rural roads.

Baltimore police reported temporary icing that caused minor accidents on several roads.

Four police cruisers were damaged in ice related fender benders in Baltimore and Howard counties, police said. State police at Hagerstown blamed ice on Interstate 70 and Route 66 east of town for several minor accidents.

Overnight lows near freezing were reported in the area early yesterday, but soon gave way to warmer weather.

Mrs. Harkless' rescue occurred on Route 7, Old Philadelphia Road, in Broad Creek, a half-mile north of the Cecil County town of Charlestown.

State police Trooper Stanley Wilson said Mrs. Harkless was on her way to work just before 6 a.m., driving her 1990 Dodge Spirit sedan north on Route 7, when she encountered a curving downhill slope that proved slippery.

The car slid into the normally placid, shallow stream. Because of Friday's heavy rains and melting ice, Trooper Wilson said, the water was 4 feet deep, about four times its normal depth.

Mr. Racine said he stopped in his van, went into the water and banged on the car windows. The rushing water had pushed the car against a drainage culvert, he said. He then ran to nearby homes for help.

Firefighters from the Charlestown Volunteer Fire Company came minutes later, donning insulated rubber suits to enter the freezing water.

Charlestown Fire Chief Ronnie A. Daniels said that only the rear wheels and gas tank were visible when he arrived with an ambulance.

Using the suits for the first time, Assistant Chief Gary Bott and firefighter Cathy Farrell jumped into the water and tried to pry the driver's door open, Chief Daniels said. Their first attempts failed, so they broke the window, opened the door and discovered the woman inside.

"When they handed her back to us on the stream bank, she kind of gasped for air. She was semiconscious and started hollering and screaming," Chief Daniels said.

"I really thought we were going to pull out a dead body," Mr. Racine said.

Mrs. Harkless was removed from the car at 7:07 a.m., Chief Daniels said. Without the special suits, his firefighters could not have entered the freezing water, he said.

Mrs. Harkless was flown to the Trauma Center by state police MedEvac helicopter. By noon she was declared in stable condition with no apparent permanent injury from the icy immersion.

She said that she had a headache and was uncomfortable because of all the water she had swallowed, but that otherwise she was fine.

Her baby is due in August, she said.


For once, a possible "big deal" winter storm seems to have fizzled, National Weather Service forecaster Bob Melrose said last night.

Forecasters had been speculating since midweek that a storm appeared headed up the East Coast that would dump substantial amounts of snow on Baltimore and elsewhere in the mid-Atlantic.

But Mr. Melrose said the Baltimore metropolitan area could expect only an inch or so, starting this afternoon and continuing into early Monday. He put the chance of snow at 40 percent today and 60 percent tonight.

"It's not going to head up the coast," Mr. Melrose said of the storm. "It's going out to sea" via the Carolinas.

Slightly heavier accumulations were predicted for the Eastern Shore, where light snow could start about dawn today. Winter storm watches were issued in Somerset, Wicomico and Worcester counties.

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