When Todd Zobrist, 32 responded to reports that a Nissan SUV had driven off a two-lane highway and into a lake in Illinois' Madison County on Thursday morning, he immediately realized from the amount of police cars and other emergency vehicles that this was not a normal call. Despite the darkness, Zobrist said they could see a car in the lake with its headlights still shinning from underneath the water. A bystander, who called 911, told police they had seen the car go in, but had not seen anyone exit the vehicle.
With all the windows and doors appearing to be intact, Zobrist knew they needed to check the car.
“I beelined over the dock,” he said at a press conference on Friday. “I took my shirt, my sweatshirt off, my boots and socks off and jumped in with my pants.”
After swimming out in the freezing water, Zobrist got onto roof of the SUV and stuck his head and arm through the broken driver’s side window to see anyone was in the car. It appeared to be empty, but he noticed there was an empty child's car seat.
Zobrist said he stuck his head back in one last time between second and third row of seats “saw two feet and two hands.”
“At first I thought it was just a doll,” he said. “I grabbed a foot and realized pretty quickly this was an infant baby. At this point, the baby had tone on him but was not breathing on his own. I started CPR and gave him a few breaths and after a few breaths, [he} started spitting up water and I rolled him on his side.”
Zobrist hoped that by that time, the EMS boat would have been dispatched to bring them back to safety. But when he learned the boat was not even in the water, he made the split decision to swim back holding the baby boy infant over his head out of the water.
“I was freezing and I determined it was best for baby that we needed to go,” said Zobrist, who said he swam until he hit ground and then ran. EMS personnel were standing by to warm the baby and later rushed the infant to the hospital where he was found to be in good condition.
Police later determined that the baby’s mother, Cristy Campbell, 32, of Glen Carbon, Il, had been the driver of the car and died at the scene. An autopsy later determined that Campbell had drowned. According to local news reports, police said there was also a fire earlier at Campbell’s house which killed her husband Justin. The couple’s other six children, who lived at the home, were able to safely escape the fire.
Zobrist said he was in the “right place, at the right time” in the “dark, cold, most conditions possible.” He said despite the tragedy, he was pleased that at least all the children were safe and the baby was in good condition.
“It is definitely good news for the family that at least that all the children are in good condition," he said.
Claudia Rosenbaum is an entertainment reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.
Contact Claudia Rosenbaum at email@example.com.
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