UTAH– Lily wasn’t moving when rescuers found her, hanging upside down in her mother’s smashed car. It had flipped over into a frigid Utah river half a day before, and the baby was still strapped in her seat.
As Officer Jared Warner dashed with the 18-month-old in his arms to an ambulance, she was barely alive. But she’s doing better, doctors said on Sunday. When Warner heard that, the policeman looked close to tears. His voice faltered.
“There’s probably nothing more gratifying than to know that,” he told CNN affiliate KUTV.
Lily’s mother, Lynn Jennifer Groesbeck, died in the crash that had landed their car on its roof in the Spanish Fork River. She was 25 years old.
Lucky fishing trip
Lily may have died unseen with her, had a man not gone fishing on that particular spot Saturday. The angler waded into the river around noon, then noticed the car wheels-up in the water. “Where the car was, you couldn’t see it from the roadway,” Police Lt. Cory Slaymaker said. The fisherman called emergency dispatch.
Police and fire rescuers arrived and sprang into the water. The rest of what happened is now a frenetic blur for Officer Bryan DeWitt. “I don’t remember doing anything but just doing it,” he said. The water was so cold that, when the rescue was over, seven of the men involved had to be treated for hypothermia. They heaved the car onto its side and saw Groesbeck in the driver’s seat. It was clear to them that she was dead.
Then they noticed the baby. “She was definitely unconscious and not responsive,” Warner said.
But she was still alive, and rescuers were delighted to see it.
Trapped 14 hours
She was still strapped into her seat, where she may have been for 14 hours, if the wreck occurred, when police believe it did.
The night before, a man living nearby heard a loud crash and stepped outside to check, but he saw nothing unusual, police said, and dismissed it. That was at about 10:30 p.m. on Friday. Groesbeck’s car had probably just struck a bridge embankment. “The driver’s side tire went up the cement barrier on the south end of the bridge, launching this woman and her baby into the freezing water,” Slaymaker told WUTV.
The angler came along around 12:30 p.m. on Saturday, 14 hours later.
Hanging upside down
The river is 10 feet deep in some places, police said, but the car hit a shallower spot. Images showed it only partly covered by water. Lily was not submerged, said Police Lt. Matt Johnson. Firefighter Paul Tomadakis freed her from the wreck. I “grabbed the baby in my arm, raised its head up out of water, as I tried to release the seat belt,” he said. Then Warner took Lily into his arms.
“The child was passed to me and I ran up and climbed into the ambulance with the child,” he said.
No skid marks
Police have no explanation for the wreck. No alcohol, no drugs were in play, they told WUTV. There were no skid marks leading up to the impact. A tow truck hauled Groesbeck’s car out of the river, and it will be inspected for possible mechanical failures.
Lily is still fighting to recover, Groesbeck’s family said, and they need help with the medical expenses and the funeral costs for her mother. The family has set up a gofundme page for donations. Early Monday, it had reached more than $9,500, surpassing its goal of $8,000.
The family also thanked the policemen and firefighters for risking their lives to save Lily’s.
By Ben Brumfield
CNN’s Melanie Whitley, Vivien Kuo, Joe Sutton Jackie Castillo and Mariano Castillo contributed to this report.