Early morning driver takes detour, saves woman from drowning

Posted June 29, 2013, at 5:39 a.m.
Last modified June 29, 2013, at 3:46 p.m.

BELFAST, Maine — Early Thursday morning, Lee Walsh made a detour from his home in Freedom to pick up his sister before work. That detour, police said, most likely saved a woman’s life.

Walsh, 53, said Friday afternoon that he and his sister were driving down Smart Road about 5:30 a.m. when a woman on the road waved them down near a four-corner intersection near the Goose River.

“She said there was a car in the river and somebody was in it,” Walsh said. “I just went in.”

He didn’t know if the woman was alive or dead, but he didn’t hesitate. He threw his wallet, hat and cellphone to his sister and jumped into the cold, slow-moving water and waded out to a blue car that had sunk nearly up to its roof. He saw the driver, who was still conscious, and tried to open the door but it wouldn’t unlock.

“She was kind of in and out, freaking out, asking, ‘get me out, get me out,’ Walsh recounted.

He doesn’t know how he managed it, but he was able somehow to use force to push a window down and then help the woman push her seat back until he was able to pull her from the car.

It was quick, but it felt like it took a long time, Walsh said of the rescue.

By the time he got her to shore, police and rescue personnel took over.

He dropped his sister off at work, then returned home to change out of his wet clothes. Nevertheless, he was cold all day long, he said. The chill of the river had gotten into his bones.

Although Walsh brushed off praise, Chief Mike McFadden of the Belfast Police Department said Friday that Officer Brad Hanson reported that Walsh’s actions “undoubtedly saved the woman’s life.”

The chief said that police weren’t naming the woman because officers think she may have intentionally driven into the river.

Walsh said that as far as he could tell from the rescue, she wanted to live, and he hopes she’s doing better. He’s a man who knows about second chances, after having spent 18 years serving time at Maine State Prison for a crime he’d rather not talk about.

“I don’t really consider myself a hero,” Walsh said. “It had to be done. I was the only one there, and I did it. It just had to be done. I couldn’t leave. There’s no way I could leave.”

He said that all that time in prison hasn’t stopped him from wanting to help people who need it.

“Even though I was in prison, I’m a human being,” he said. “I have compassion.”

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