A Brown County man was rescued after his truck slid on icy pavement, veered off the road, clipped a tree and went down steep embankment into the Driftwood River just west of Columbus.
Gary Pugh, 66, of Nashville, Indiana, was described by first responders as extremely lucky to escape the accident with just minor hypothermia.
Moments before the 11:55 a.m. Wednesday accident, Pugh was driving his black Nissan Frontier on Lowell Road, which had been cleared of snow and ice from the past week’s winter storms.
But after turning south onto County Road 325W at the Lowell Bridge, Pugh found himself on a narrow, older and icy stretch of pavement with an uneven surface.
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“He was probably going too fast for those conditions,” Bartholomew County Sheriff Matt Myers said.
As the pickup approached a slight incline near an abandoned house a half-mile from the bridge, Pugh lost control of his pickup, Sheriff’s Department deputy Kevin Abner said.
Pugh’s truck veered across the northbound lane, and began to slide sideways before careening off a tree, Abner said.
The impact caused the truck to veer east toward the river, and then off a 10-foot embankment, where it broke off another tree before landing upside down on the frozen river bank, Abner said.
First responders initially had difficulty finding the vehicle after Pugh called 911 from his cellphone, but dispatchers could only identify an area and a nearby house for where the cellphone call came from, said Lt. Matt Harris, Columbus Police Department spokesman.
Columbus police officer Greg Ross was one of the first at the scene and found the vehicle starting to fill with water and the vehicle’s doors jammed, Harris said. Ross forcefully opened one of the doors to remove Pugh and pull him onto the bank, Harris said. Pugh had been in the vehicle for several minutes before he was found and removed from the overturned truck, the officer said.
Arriving within minutes, first responders from both Columbus Township Fire and Rescue and the Columbus Fire Department used ropes to send down a basket to rescuers near the truck and pulled Pugh up the bank to a waiting ambulance crew, Myers said.
Pugh was taken to Columbus Regional Hospital, Abner said. But Pugh was alert after being rescued and was believed to have only a slight case of hypothermia, he said. There were no injuries among the first responders at the scene.
Two hours after the accident, Myers confirmed the driver suffered no physical injuries except those caused by the frigid temperatures.
The accident site is part of a half-mile stretch of road that will be widened and smoothed out later this year.
Once finished, the project will complete the county’s goal of a temporary bypass that links U.S. 31 to the north and State Road 46 West to the south, Bartholomew County commissioner Larry Kleinhenz said.
A large section of Road 325W further south was widened and improved in 2015. Last year, crews completed substantial improvements to two sharp curves along Lowell Road, just west of Interstate 65.
During the rescue efforts, officers closed off a section of 325W from Lowell Road to the north and near Georgetown Road to the south. However, deputies did occasionally allow backed-up traffic to come through.
Just before the road was reopened for good, Bartholomew County Water Rescue Recovery launched an airboat from the nearby Lowell fishing site, Myers said.
The airboat crew hooked a cable from a boom attached to a 31 Wrecker flatbed truck to lift the inverted pickup from the river bank.
— Assistant Managing Editor Julie McClure contributed to this story.