SOUTHWEST MIAMI-DADE, FLA. – Strangers became heroes after a car landed upside down in a Southwest Miami-Dade canal, and two of the good Samaritans and a battalion chief behind the rescue described the tense moments when they helped in the efforts to pull a family of five to safety.
Ryheen Miller and Loraine Clarke said they were heading back from a baby shower when they spotted the overturned vehicle in the shallow water near Southwest 119th Avenue and 268th Street, Saturday night.
“We see a crowd of Black women standing there on the side of the road, so we already knew something serious was going on,” said Miller.
Inside the car that flipped over, a couple and their children feared for their lives.
Miller took out his phone and began recording what witnesses described as a miraculous rescue.
“Some people were already jumping in to try to see if they could break the window, but the water was stopping them from breaking the window, and then we heard the kids screaming, so that was kind of a good sign,” he said.
Two Miami-Dade Fire Rescue units were already on their way, but MDFR Battalion Chief Kevin Martin said the dispatcher asked him if he wanted to go. He arrived before those units did.
“I had one civilian and a bunch of police officers going at it on the car,” he said.
Martin said it wasn’t clear initially how many children were trapped inside.
“I just dropped my radio and jumped in the canal and started directing, trying to get them out,” he said.
The children’s mother was the first occupant to be freed.
Martin doesn’t speak Spanish, but Clarke said she does, and she comforted and reassured the woman.
“I asked her, ‘Can you get the kids?’ When she calmed down, she actually went back under the water,” said Martin. “All of a sudden, a little 5 or 4-year-old’s head popped up, so we calmed him down.”
Witnesses said the children’s mother went back for the second child, and then her husband was freed once the door was pried open.
Everyone gave special praise to the Miami-Dade Police officer seen working by the light of a flashlight to free the trapped family.
“Officer Pigot, she was a rock star. I mean, I don’t know how it happened, but everybody was working together,” said Martin. “Those police officers in a coordinated effort, they were just like clicking. Whatever the direction, everybody was on the same page, and everybody just had one mission, and that was to get everybody out of the car.”
“[The officer] was the first one to jump in and trying to break in,” said Clarke.
Those first responders were trained to act in situations like this, but one person acted, not as a professional, but as a parent desperate to save her children.
“The true hero of this whole call was that mother, in the front seat, went back twice underwater to get each kid before she saved herself,” said Martin.
“I was helping her pray for her children until they saw the husband, which was their father, getting out of the water,” said Clarke. “Everybody started to clap, stomping their feet on the ground and literally just clapping and praising God.”
It was a rescue to remember, for all the right reasons.
“After the call, l was a little bit overwhelmed, because you’ve had 26 years of bad experiences, and then you’re like, ‘Holy – I thought there were really passed [away],’” said Martin. “It’s one of those calls that you go, ‘Really? Everyone lived?’ That’s a good day.”
A woman who called 911 said she was on that road by chance, and no one would have known otherwise that the car had flipped into the shallow canal.
Martin said the family was transported to the hospital as a precaution, but they were all uninjured and in stable condition.