A teenager’s first driving lesson met a watery end Friday.
Holly Spradlin, 15, and her step-mother, Elisabeth Curry, were unhurt after the car Spradlin drove went into the Hood River and sank.
“It’s the closest I’ve ever been to death,” Curry said Monday. “I just imagined holding Holly and saying goodbye.”
But mother and daughter acted together, averting tragedy by kicking out a car window and swimming to safety, according to Capt. Kevin Lynch of Hood River Police Department.
“It’s not easy to do, especially with water coming in and (people) panicking. It could have been nasty,” he said.
The incident happened Friday at 4 p.m. on Port of Hood River property about 150 yards from the mouth of Hood River. Spradlin had driven around the asphalt-grass Port grounds in first gear and was doing well with stops and turns, so Curry encouraged her to shift into second gear.
Spradlin hit the accelerator instead of the brake, and panicked, according to Curry. The car was traveling at about 60 miles per hour in second gear: “Those 2.5 liter engines have a lot of get-up-and-go,” Curry said.
The car sped east across Second Avenue, sailed over a 15-foot bank and landed upright in the river. En route, the car missed a concrete post and a fence. The car sank with both occupants inside. Water covering their feet, Spradlin got out of her seatbelt first, but Curry struggled with the buckle while Spradlin tried alone to kick out the window. It wouldn’t give.
“It’s a good thing she couldn’t kick it out right away before I got my seat belt off,” Curry said, because the force of the water rushing in would have sucked the car deeper, with Curry immobilized.
But Curry got free and joined Spradlin in kicking at the window. They swam out the open window, and made it to the west bank, where an Olympia man who had put on his wet suit pulled Curry and Spradlin out of the water, with the help of two other witnesses.
Curry said Spradlin “kept her wits about her.”
Lynch said “it sounds like she just froze” at the wheel, before the car went into the river.
“I guess the cold water kind of sobered her up,” he said.
Lynch said the last time a car was known to have gone into the river was about 20 years ago.
Curry’s car was missing as of presstime Tuesday morning. A Hood River County Sheriff’s deputy searched with a depth finder, to no avail.
“We’ve got to get that car out of there (Tuesday),” Lynch said, out of concern for leaking oil and gas. Lynch spent part of Monday arranging a diver to help get the car out. Fortunately, the Accord had a near-empty gas tank, but engine oil is still a concern to Lynch.
Curry bought a new car over the weekend. She said Spradlin’s first concern as she crawled from the water was for the Accord.
“Poor Holly, she kept saying, ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry.’ I told her, ‘we’re not sorry — we lived.’”