Deputy saves man from submerged car, then responds to rollover on same night

After pulling the man from the water, the deputy left that scene to respond to a rollover, where he put out a small fire in one of the vehicles


By Mark Price
The Charlotte Observer

DEFUNIAK SPRINGS, Fla. — One Florida deputy came to the rescue at two different crashes in one night, and it started with the jarring moment when he saw hands gripping the steering wheel of a sinking truck, officials say.

The hectic series of events began around 10 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 29, when a pickup was found in the Hogtown Bayou, the Walton County Sheriff’s Office said in a news release. The crash site was about 65 miles east of Pensacola, on the Florida Panhandle.

“When he ran to the end of the dock, Deputy (Robert) Pitoniak saw hands on the steering wheel inside the truck,” the sheriff’s office said.

“Without hesitation, Pitoniak removed his gear and dove into the water, swimming to the submerged vehicle. The male driver was clearly disoriented and Deputy Pitoniak had to forcefully remove him from truck, carrying him through the water to the dock.”

A second deputy, Sgt. Josh Bennett, pulled the driver from the water. Pitoniak then swam back to the truck to make sure no one else was still inside, officials said. The truck was empty.

Both Pitoniak and the driver were examined by medics at the scene, officials said. The identity and condition of the driver were not released.

“Once leaving the scene at Hogtown Bayou to go change clothes, (Pitoniak) drove up on a crash and immediately rendered aid to victims whose vehicle was rolled over in the middle of Highway 98 at S. Church Street,” the sheriff’s office reported.

“While still soaked from the previous call, it didn’t stop him from trying to put out a small fire in one of the vehicles involved in the crash and from then meeting deputies where they found the driver of the other vehicle involved in the crash.”

The sheriff’s office did not say if Pitoniak ever got a chance during his shift to change those wet clothes.

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