Trip to grocery becomes a brush with death Towson woman rescued after flooding lake waters stall her car

January 21, 1996|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,SUN STAFF

All Margaret S. Richardson wanted to do Friday was drive from her home in Towson to a grocery store in Ruxton. Floodwater from Lake Roland stopped her.

She was traveling west on Bellona Avenue around 12:30 p.m., when her 1990 Volvo stalled in water spilling onto the road from the nearby lake.

"I thought it was a puddle. I thought I could go through it," said Mrs. Richardson, the mother of two daughters and a son.

But, after the motor stopped as water seeped over the floorboard, Mrs. Richardson, 46, couldn't open her electrically powered windows or sunroof to escape. She also couldn't open the car door because the raging water pressed against it.

L Two horrified bystanders watched the rapidly rising torrent.

"Seeing this person in the car, I thought, 'Is this person going to die in front of me,' " said Roderick O'Connor, 37, of Bolton Hill, who had stopped his car on Bellona Avenue.

He and Melissa Carpenter of Sparks, who had stopped on Bellona shortly before Mr. O'Connor, frantically looked for large sticks to try and reach Mrs. Richardson. Mrs. Carpenter called 911 from her car phone.

Mrs. Richardson also called 911 from her battery-powered cellular phone, which was given to her by her husband, Dr. John B. Richardson, for emergencies.

"When he gave it to me, I thought, 'What would I use it for?' " she said yesterday, sitting in the living room of her brick Colonial with her husband, a surgeon. They live in Charlesbrook.

That phone call kept her from panicking, she added.

"The 911 dispatcher stayed on the phone. It helps you keep calm. You have a human voice with you. You don't feel as alone."

Within minutes, Baltimore County Police Officer David Nilsen arrived.

By that time, the water was up to the middle of the door. Also, the force of the water had turned the car 90 degrees.

"It just floated," Mrs. Richardson said. "I couldn't feel the wheels."

Officer Nilsen, 28, jumped onto the car's hood, grabbing the windshield wipers to keep from falling into the icy water.

At first, he tried unsuccessfully to break the windshield with his baton. "I was afraid she might go into shock or faint or the water would rise and cover her," said Officer Nilsen, who has been a police officer for five years.

He shattered a passenger window and pulled Mrs. Richardson out of the car.

Mr. O'Connor, a home improvement subcontractor, and Mrs. Carpenter, a homemaker, pulled Mrs. Richardson to land.

"[Officer Nilsen] did a remarkable job getting her out in that time," Mrs. Carpenter said. She said the rescue took less than 10 minutes.

More Baltimore County rescue personnel soon were on the scene and wrapped the shivering, but uninjured, Mrs. Richardson in blankets.

"Mrs. Richardson was amazingly calm," Mrs. Carpenter said. "We were more panicky than she was. We could see how fast the water was rising."

Officer Nilsen said he plans to nominate Mrs. Carpenter and Mr. O'Connor for commendations given out periodically by the county Police Department.

Mrs. Richardson's Volvo is probably totaled, said Mike Breuning, a mechanic at the Ruxton Service Center that towed the car. By the time a tow driver arrived, the water was up to the car's roof rack, he said.

Mrs. Richardson, an assistant in the pre-primary program at Friends School on Charles Street in Baltimore, said she didn't realize how much danger she was in.

"It doesn't hit you," she said. "I'm very lucky."

Mrs. Richardson said Officer Nilsen, Mr. O'Connor and Mrs. Carpenter were her saviors.

Everyone involved credits the successful rescue to a group effort. "Everybody played a part. That was the neat thing," Mr. O'Connor said.

And when Mrs. Richardson was safe, "We had a big group hug," Mrs. Carpenter said. "It was very reassuring to know she was OK."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.