LEIGHTON — Elizabeth Tortorici tried frantically to free herself from her Jeep Wrangler while the water in the cab of the vehicle continued to rise.
Hatton Elementary Principal David Isbell and his wife, Alison, had been following behind her on 6th Street near Gnat Pond Road, in Wednesday's torrential downpour, when her vehicle hydroplaned, shot across the opposite side of the road and tumbled down an embankment into an estimated 8-10 feet of water.
The Isbells pulled off the road. David jumped out and quickly surveyed the situation. It wasn't good. The Jeep was sinking.
"I'd just been duck hunting recently right there near that spot and I didn't think the water was that deep," he said. "I was wrong. I knew I was about to take a swim."
Isbell made it down the slick, steep bank, keeping his eyes on the driver in the Jeep, who was still above water at that point and trying to free herself. Then he started swimming.
Tortorici said she still doesn't know exactly what happened to cause the tail end of the Jeep to spin out of control. She said the whole line of traffic was traveling slowly, around 40 mph due to the rain.
"The guy in front of me in a pickup truck almost got hit by a car pulling out in front of him, so we were all braking," she said, adding that the pickup truck driver also turned back to assist when she careened into the water.
"Next thing I knew my Jeep was flipping and thank God it landed upright in the water," she said. "I was sitting there with water rising up chest level when I looked and saw this guy swimming out to me. He said, 'can you get out?' and I said, 'no.' "
She'd managed to get her seat belt off but the manual window wouldn't roll down. Her foot was stuck also, making matters worse.
"I looked up and noticed my rag top was unhooked on one side and I was able to push it back," she said. "The guy was on the hood then and grabbed my hand but my foot was still stuck."
Water still rising inside the Jeep, she managed to free her foot and he was able to help her out.
Isbell said there was still an obvious question he needed to ask: Can you swim?
"As soon as I asked her, she took off and buddy, she was gone," he said. "We both had a time getting up that bank."
Isbell said his wife had called 911.
"It was just (divine intervention), miraculous really, that her Jeep landed upright in the water and that she wasn't seriously hurt or worse," Isbell said.
"And the timing, I mean, I'd taken my mother to a doctor's appointment and my wife picked me up there and we ran through a drive-through first. It was around 3:30 p.m. and we were headed home. We were just where we were intended to be at that time."
Tortorici was transported to the hospital where she was checked out and released with bruises, a pulled muscle and a sore ankle where her foot had gotten stuck. Her Jeep didn't fare so well and she says her perfect driving record is no longer intact.
"Ironically, I was just returning from taking (and passing) my tests to be a Colbert County bus driver," she said. "I'm still rattled, and really sore, but I'm thankful to be alive. He saved my life. And the other two gentlemen who were there and helped are heroes, too."
Isbell laughed when asked if he felt the title of "hero" was in order.
"Nah, I didn't do anything but go swimming," he said. "In muddy, cold water and fully clothed. But all I lost was two Chap Sticks."