A morning commute for a Plantation man turned into a heroic rescue when he pulled a driver and young girl from a van that had plunged into a roadside canal.
The Plantation Fire Department is crediting Jephtah Thomas, 58, for jumping into the canal and rescuing the two after their car careened off Sunrise Boulevard near Northwest 46th Avenue about 7:15 a.m. Friday.
Thomas said he was heading to his job at the Lifetime Athletic Club in Boca Raton, where he repairs fitness equipment. He didn’t see the car drive off the road, but heard the splash — and it was enough to make him stop and look.
“You could hear the crack,” he said. “When I looked I saw the vehicle sinking. I had to stop. I called 911 right away.”
Police said the van carrying the man and his daughter was headed north on Northwest 46th Avenue when it approached a sharp left turn. It’s not known why, but the van went straight into the canal. The man, 40, and his child, 10, had minor injuries and were taken to Plantation General Hospital, rescue officials said.
Thomas said another person stopped “and I gave him my phone and told him I’m going in.”
Fortunately, Thomas said, he was able to walk up to the partially submerged van because the water in that part of the canal was shallow.
He unsuccessfully tried opening the driver’s side door. Then he heard knocking on the back window.
“I said, ‘Thank God they’re not dead,'” Thomas said in a telephone interview.
He isn’t quite sure how, but Thomas said he managed to get his fingers under the glass pane and pull the window. It broke. The driver of the car helped lift his daughter to safety and Thomas pulled her out. He then helped the father climb out of the car.
Once on land, the shaken father said he had just dropped off his son at school and was going to drop off his daughter next.
Thomas went back home to change his clothes before heading to work. “I was soaked,” he said.
Thomas said he was in the right place at the right time.
“I didn’t see the car going in — nobody saw it,” he said. “I saw my son and my wife [in my head] and it could have been them. I would have been guilty [if I hadn’t stopped].”
Plantation Fire Department Battalion Chief and department spokesman Joel Gordon said there’s no doubt Thomas helped save two lives, but he cautioned that such actions can be risky.
“We’re glad he was willing to help and it worked out well, but we do not recommend people put themselves in danger like that,” Gordon said.
The cause of the crash remains under investigation.
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