Kunkel Ambulance, an ambulance service based in Utica, east of Syracuse, said one of its ambulances was stolen from the company's location during a post-shift cleaning on Sunday morning at approximately 10:30 a.m. ET. No employees were in the vehicle when it was taken, according to the company.
Kunkel Ambulance said it immediately notified authorities of the theft and coordinated with law enforcement to track the stolen ambulance using GPS.
The Utica Police Department said the GPS tracker showed the vehicle was traveling westbound on the New York State Thruway near Vernon. A hot pursuit ensued, with help from state troopers.
The New York State Police said its troopers attempted to stop the ambulance on the Thruway at approximately 10:42 a.m. ET, but the driver refused to comply. Troopers later spotted the vehicle heading westbound on Interstate 490 but failed to stop it as the runaway driver took the Culver Road exit in Rochester.
The ambulance ultimately turned onto Seneca Road and sped down the narrow, winding, dead-end street before driving into Irondequoit Bay near a yacht club.
The driver -- identified by Utica police as 32-year-old Vanessa Armstead of Buffalo, New York -- swam to a private boat on the water and was taken into custody by authorities. She received medical attention at the scene, state police said.
A dive team from the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office was called in to help retrieve the submerged ambulance, according to state police. Crews spent more than an hour pulling the vehicle out of the water.
Kunkel Ambulance said it is cooperating with investigators.
Utica police said an investigation later revealed that Armstead had been in a car accident on the Thruway the previous day and was transported to a Utica hospital for treatment. The following morning, after being released, she allegedly went to Kunkel Ambulance's nearby facility and stole the ambulance, according to Utica police.
Armstead was charged with one felony count each of third-degree burglary and second-degree grand larceny. She was being held in the Monroe County Jail in Rochester on $3,500 bail. The investigation is ongoing and further charges may be filed, Utica police said. It was unclear whether Armstead had obtained a lawyer who could speak on her behalf.
"Our sincere thanks go out to the New York Police and all law enforcement agencies involved in this incident," Sgt. Michael Curley, spokesperson of the Utica Police Department, said in a statement Monday. "We also would like thank those, both in and out of the water, that came to the aid of Ms. Armstead following the crash. We are very thankful that no innocent individuals were harmed by the her actions at any point during the totality of the incident."