Durham County

Ride-along for police wannabe is anything but routine. He dives right into the job, helping officers to save lives.

Durham police officers E.E. Ortiz, K. De La Cruz and A.M. Acker (from left) discuss their rescue of two women who were stranded in a sinking car in a pond off Alston Avenue Wednesday.
Durham police officers E.E. Ortiz, K. De La Cruz and A.M. Acker (from left) discuss their rescue of two women who were stranded in a sinking car in a pond off Alston Avenue Wednesday. sjones@heraldsun.com

Durham Officer K. De La Cruz came into the conference room saying, "I got all new gear! It’s weird because I feel like a recruit with this pristine gear and this vest is slightly uncomfortable."

Her new gear is a compliment of Durham Police Department after her old gear became waterlogged when she jumped into a pond to fulfill her duty.

De La Cruz was one of three officers and a DPD applicant who responded to a call June 29, after a driver lost control of her vehicle near Durham County South Regional Library and was thrust into the pond. The other responders were Investigator E.E. Ortiz, Officer A.M. Acker and the recruit is David Plitt.

De La Cruz had Plitt in her car as a ride-along for part of his recruiting process when the call came in. They happened to decide on Chick-fil-A for lunch in the area which put them in close position to respond to the call. A.M. Acker who also works out of that district, responded to the call at the same time.

Investigator Ortiz was responding to a 911 hang-up call at two businesses in the area when he saw their two police cruisers speed through an intersection to respond to the scene.

"I was maybe 20 to 25 seconds away from it [the ponded car] when I saw two other cars, with sirens, go through the intersection," Ortiz said, "All I remember hearing on the dispatch was that there was a baby in the car, and that the car was sinking."

De La Cruz remembers a crowd of people standing on an embankment next to the pond when she arrived on scene. She started running toward the pond when bystanders told her someone was still trapped inside the car.

To her surprise, Ortiz appeared next to her in response to the call.

"As I was running I could hear someone beside me. I look over and its Ortiz," she said. "I don’t even think we communicated at all."

The three officers and DPD recruit plunged into the pond to get to the car.

"You have very little time to think because you can see the two people in the car and the car sinking." Ortiz said. "I remember feeling my boots getting wet. Next thing you know I feel the water rushing through my vest and we were swimming."

They arrived to find two women in the car, one of them pregnant, and an empty car seat in the back. They were relieved to discover there was no child in the car.

"We asked where is the baby?" Ortiz said, "They told us there wasn’t one. It was a relief to know wasn’t a baby that was unable to swim and helpless."

Water began rushing into the car after Ortiz was able to open a back door of the car. He handed the younger woman to Acker who moved her to safety.

Ortiz then took the pregnant woman from the car and began moving her to safety. He fought against the woman’s weight as his gear pulled him down.

"She was weighing me down trying to keep above water. I remember sinking to the bottom.," Ortiz said. "I was trying to jump back up but the mud was acting like quicksand. It got to the point where I walked on the bottom and guided her toward land."

The officers plan on putting a good word in for the applicant, who jumped into the water beside them. De La Cruz told Plitt they would be responding to routine calls.

"When the call came in, I asked him if he was ready to go swimming," De La Cruz said. "I don’t think he thought I was serious."

Ortiz had praise for Plitt’s abilities, saying "He has that number one quality you need. Being a police officer is being scared half of the time but still going and doing what you have to do."

The officers say they have never dealt with anything like this call during their careers.