SURRY, Maine — An Orland man narrowly escaped hypothermia Friday after accidentally driving his car into Patten Pond.
Lucas Wardell, 18, mistook calm water for a parking lot while driving around noon in unfamiliar terrain on North Bend Road in Surry, said Maine State Police Trooper Cliff Peterson. The accident left Wardell’s ‘08 Honda CR-V submerged in the pond.
Reached for comment Friday afternoon, Wardell said the only thing hurt was his pride: “It’s kind of embarrassing,” he said in a phone interview. “I knew pretty quickly that I was going to be fine, but at that point, I was just upset about the car. It was my parents’, which made it even worse.”
Wardell, a civil engineering student at the University of Maine, said that the semi-frozen pond looked like a blacktop parking lot covered in a little snow. He said he didn’t realize he was driving near water at all, until it was too late.
“When I hit the water, I was like, ‘Oh, no,’” he said. “I tried to put it in reverse, but by then, the back wheels were in the water, and I couldn’t move.”
Wardell quickly rolled down his window — he said he remembered hearing somewhere that it can be nearly impossible to open a submerged car’s door. He took a moment to gather his thoughts and climbed to the roof.
Quick thinking led to what for many would have been a counterintuitive decision in Friday’s cold, drizzly weather: Wardell said he stripped off his pants and jacket and threw them ashore.
“At that point, I thought I might have to walk to go get somebody, and I didn’t want to be soaked,” he said.
With a dry layer of clothing waiting for him, he jumped from the car and swam, then walked, through the water, about 15 feet to shore, he guessed. He held his cell phone above the waterline, and called his parents for help once he had dry clothes on again.
A nearby resident saw the vehicle in the water and called 911, Wardell said. Police, and Wardell’s dad, arrived shortly thereafter.
Peterson said Wardell’s quick thinking prevented him from contracting hypothermia.
As for the vehicle, local game warden Phil Richter donned a diving suit to help a tow truck hitch a chain to the Honda’s undercarriage.
Peterson said the vehicle would likely be a total loss. Wardell said his parents were just happy he was safe.
“It was really dumb on my part,” he said. “I guess I just wasn’t paying close-enough attention.
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.