A Broadalbin man narrowly escaped death Tuesday morning when his fully laden tractor-trailer plunged into a lake about 10 miles outside of Ticonderoga, trapping him underwater inside a crushed cab with only a small pocket of air to breathe.
Michael J. Rodriguez, 40, a trucker with Logistics One, lost control of his 80,000-pound, 18-wheel rig while hauling paper products on Route 74 around 1:30 a.m. Tuesday.
Rescuers pulled Rodriguez cold, wet and suffering from mild hypothermia from the cab after about 40 minutes. He was listed in fair condition Wednesday at Albany Medical Center, where he was taken for evaluation. A single father with several children, he was not available for comment.
More than 20 emergency response personnel from the Chilson Volunteer Fire Department, Ticonderoga Volunteer Fire Department, Ticonderoga Police Department and Ticonderoga Ambulance Squad helped save Rodriguez, who was trapped inside the cab in about 15 feet of water, said Matthew Watts, a critical care EMT and assistant fire chief with the Ticonderoga Fire Department.
Time was a factor because the truck kept shifting deeper into the water, said Watts, one of the first to arrive at the scene. “The way the truck was moving, it could have ended up deeper in the water where we could not get to him,” he said.
Rodriguez’s truck passed through the guardrails, tumbled about 8 feet down along the side of the double-lane causeway where Route 74 crosses Eagle Lake, and landed upside down in the lake. He couldn’t get out because the doors and windows sealed up when the cab was crushed, Watts said.
“I was amazed by what I saw and that anyone was still alive,” Watts said. He said the roadway is notorious for tractor-trailers ending up in water. “We have had log trucks and paper trucks end up in there, but this is the worst one I have been involved in, in terms of damage and with someone being trapped inside,” he said.
Emergency personnel knew Rodriguez was alive because they were able to talk to him, but they couldn’t see him.
Rodriguez had unhooked his seat belt during the accident and had climbed into the space between the passenger seat and driver’s seat, where he awaited rescue. “There was a small area not filled with water and there was some room,” Watts said.
Rescuers used chains and a rescue truck to secure the rig before attempting to rescue Rodriguez. “The plan was to get the truck stabilized, get the door off and we would see what we would see when we got that far,” Watts said.
The plan worked well, at first. Rescuers got the door off and found Rodriguez alert and responsive. “I could look in and see eye to eye with him. All we could see were his shoulders and his head,” Watts said.
Rescuers decided to cut out the seat to give Rodriguez room to exit the truck. When they started, the truck shifted 18 inches deeper into the water. “We regrouped and started again and it shifted another 18 inches,” Watts said. “We then secured the truck with a winch. We then pulled the seat out and we reached in and grabbed his hands and arms and pulled him out,” he said.
Watts said Rodriguez kept thanking everyone and mentioned his children.
“We got him out and passed him up the bank and he was treated by EMTs,” Watts said. Rodriguez said his legs hurt and that he swallowed some contaminated water.
Watts said luck was on Rodriguez’s side that night, as Route 74 is infrequently used late at night, but someone in the area heard the crash. That someone was an off-duty state environmental conservation officer, who alerted authorities.
“There is no cell service up there. It could have been an hour or two before anyone came through,” Watts said.
Police were not available for comment. Watts said Rodriguez has driven the route for 15 years and that road conditions were dry.