A London man was saved from drowning in floodwaters Tuesday thanks to the selfless efforts taken by a local resident.
Dr. Robert Chandler, 66, a biology professor at Union College, was on his way home on Manchester Street Tuesday afternoon. Although there was a high water sign at the underpass, Chandler decided to chance it.
“I thought it was only 2-3 inches deep,” said Professor Chandler, but before I could turn back, the car started to float. There was nothing I could do after that.”
Before Chandler’s car even made it through the underpass, it began floating toward deeper waters.
“I didn’t know what to do,” he said. “I couldn’t get the door open. I rolled down the window and tried to call 911, but no one answered.”
Suddenly from up on the highway, Chandler heard a voice yelling, “Are you OK? Do you need some help?”
Unbeknownst to the now panicking driver, the voice belonged to a fellow Union College employee.
Sean Trinque, best known to everyone in town as Union’s cycling coach, was on his way back to town on Hwy 25E when the floating car caught his eye.
“I was driving by slower than usual anyway,” said Trinque. “I had already been by there earlier today and had slowed down to see if the water level had changed. I saw the car floating in the water, but then realized there was someone in it.”
Trinque immediately jumped the guardrail, flew down the steep slope and dove into the icy floodwaters.
“Honestly, I didn’t know the water was that cold until we got out,” said Trinque.
By the time the young man reached the already sinking vehicle about 15 to 20 feet out, the murky water was already flowing into the open window.
“It must have been about five foot deep at that point cause my feet never touched the bottom,” Trinque said. “By the time I got to him, the car was already beginning to bob, sinking more each time it went down.”
Indeed, by the time the men reached shore less than a minute later, the vehicle was completely submerged in the water with only a portion of the roof showing above the water.
According to Trinque, about the time he managed to get Professor Chandler half way out of the window, he realized the man’s foot was caught, so he had to push the man back into the car, loosen his trapped foot, then pull him out once again.
“I’m pretty sure he was already in shock,” Trinque said. “He was limp and wasn’t struggling at all, and actually that was a big help.”
By the time the two men made it to shore, Corey Moren, Lieutenant on the Barbourville Fire Department, was there to help get Professor Chandler into his van to warm up. Within minutes the rest of the SORT team, Barbourville police, Knox County EMS, sheriff’s deputies and Riley’s Wrecker Service had arrived to lend assistance.
“By the time we got here, there wasn’t anything left to do, but wait for the tow truck and get the car out of the water,” said Moren. “The young man did all the work.”
However, the young man who Moren referred to was in a hurry to get out of there. He had done what he needed to do, and now it was time to go home and get dry.
“I really think circumstances could have turned out a lot worse if things hadn’t happened just the way they did,” said Trinque. “There’s no way I could have gotten to him if his window had been up or if his car had drifted off in a different direction away from this shore. I know I couldn’t have broken his window out, and I really don’t think there was enough time. All this happened in the space of 30-40 seconds, a minute tops, from the time I hit the water to the time he was out of the car. He was already in shock so he wasn’t struggling. I just put him on top of me, threw one of his arms around me, and doggy paddled back to shore.”
Professor Chandler is well aware of what his fate could have been, and said he is eternally grateful to the young man who dove into the frigid waters to free him from the sinking car.
“I don’t know how to thank him,” said Chandler. “He saved my life. I’ll appreciate it forever.”
As for the young Union cycling coach, “I’m just glad I could help.”