A man and his father-in-law, who were trying to kill time by scouting fishing holes while their wives were gone, ended up finding a man who had been trapped for days inside a wrecked vehicle, authorities in Indiana said Tuesday.
Mario Garcia and son-in-law Nivardo De La Torre reported finding the man, whom they initially believed to be dead, in a shallow creek beneath an Interstate 94 bridge in the city of Portage about 3:35 p.m., the pair and a state police official said at an evening news conference.
The motorist was eventually rushed by helicopter to a hospital, where his injuries were assessed as life-threatening, said Sgt. Glen Fifield, a regional spokesperson for the Indiana State Police.
The driver wasn’t sure how long he’d been trapped, Garcia and De La Torre said, and he was suffering from multiple visible injuries, including a broken hand.
“He just mentioned he couldn’t feel his extremities,” Garcia said.
The pair first thought they were looking at a dead man until one touched him and the motorist “turned their head and began speaking,” Fifield said at the news conference.
Fifield said that investigators were still trying to determine the driver’s identity but that he appeared to be a man in his late 20s from the South Bend area.
He may have been at the site for nearly a week undetected because the area is out of view of the interstate, Fifield said.
“I looked over the bridge, and you can’t see it,” Fifield said, adding that no accident reports had been fielded in the area in recent days.
Authorities believe the man was traveling westbound on Interstate 94 near mile marker 19 when the vehicle went off the roadway for reasons not yet known.
“His vehicle missed that guardrail, so he’s driving on the grass shoulder before he goes airborne,” Fifield said. “His vehicle goes down into the creek, where he rolls several times. It rolled underneath the bridge.”
There, the motorist stayed for multiple days.
After Garcia and De La Torre spotted the wreckage and walked toward it to get a better look, they weren’t completely sure about what they saw.
“You could barely tell what it was,” Garcia said. “It was mangled completely.”
It’s not clear whether the driver was able to get food and water while trapped. Fifield said what may have prevented help from reaching him earlier was his inability to reach his cellphone.
Rescuers from the Portage and Burns Harbor fire departments took a few hours to free the man, Fifield said, because the wreckage was perilous and the location was difficult.
First responders had a hard time getting to the wreckage — along Indiana’s Salt Creek — which requires a hike, is a few feet deep, contains moving water and is about 30 feet wide, he said.
Garcia said he and De La Torre very well might have skipped the scouting Tuesday if it weren’t for his wife’s being at work and his daughter’s being out, leaving the pair searching for something to do on a “lazy day.” After they checked out other locations, Salt Creek was their last stop of the day, Garcia said.
The weather in Northwest Indiana presented another element of chance that helped the driver.
High temperatures reached 58 degrees at multiple locations in Porter County on Monday, with lows in the 40s, according to National Weather Service data. Fifield said freezing conditions settled in last year, but he called the recent weather warmer than normal.
“Quite frankly,” he said, “it’s a miracle he’s alive.”