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Instinct drove police officers into frigid water to rescue family with infants

car rescue.jpg
Posted at 6:15 PM, Apr 06, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-06 19:22:45-04

SEVERN, Md (WMAR) — Thanks to the quick actions of Anne Arundel County police officers, a Glen Burnie family with two children under age three is safe and sound after being rescued from frigid waters after a car crash.

“We were able to see that the children were okay and the children were reunited with their family and that was definitely a good feeling,” said Lt. Dion Tilghman.

The family’s car left the roadway, went through trees and a fence before ending a drainage pond in Sever-Danza Park.

Tilghman was on patrol in the area Friday at 9:15 p.m. when he heard the crash. He immediately responded and called for backup when he saw people were trapped.

“They were starting to bang on the glass. We could see the van was starting to take on water as well,” said Lt. Tilghman.

Officer Seth Ballard arrived and within a matter of moments, they had stripped off their excess weight of the gun belts and vests to get into the dark, frigid water.

The rescue was caught on body-worn camera footage released by the department. It shows the family in extreme distress. Tilghman and Ballard waded through 4 feet of water, broke through car windows and extracted the 9-month-old and 3-year-old from the car.

“I’m sure that’s a terrifying incident. Your vehicle is filling up with water. It’s up to the windows and you have two men with a sledgehammer breaking open your cars windows,” said Ballard.

Then, they went back for the parents. Aside from being cold and wet, no one was harmed.

The mother, Erica Contreras, told WJLA, our ABC affiliate in D.C., that she is grateful they were able to help so quickly.

“Thanks to god and to [the police officers] and the firefighters we are okay. Nothing happened to my girls or us. But the truth is I did not think I was going to live to tell this story,” said Contreras, translated from Spanish.

For Tilghman and Ballard, it’s a prime example of why they joined the force: to help people.

“I’m glad we were there. We were able to render help as quickly as we were. Being a father, I can only imagine how scary it was for the parents to realize how much danger the children were in, especially at such a young age,” said Lt. Tilghman.

“When i took this job, I knew I’m gonna help people. That’s what I knew. I deal with car crashes every single day, I deal with incidents every single day where people need help. This incident it didn’t take much thinking,” said Ballard. “At the end of the day, it was just a regular Friday night just doing my job and I promise you, any other police office would do that same.”

Ballard has only been on the force for three years, but in Tilghman’s 26 years, he’s never had to effect a water rescue like this. They both said the swimming courses in the academy helped them out.

After the incident, the unlicensed driver, the children’s father, was arrested due to outstanding warrants.