F O R T L A U D E R D A L E, Fla. -- An 83-year-old woman was foundalive in her car today, three days after it crashed off a bridgeinto a snake-infested swamp. She told rescuers she was able tosurvive by collecting rainwater.
Tillie Tooter’s car was discovered by a member of a road cleanupcrew who noticed mashed-down trees beside the Interstate 595 bridgeover the swamp and stopped to check. Justin Vannelli spotted hercar 40 feet down.
“I saw someone moving inside there, so I called the cops,”Vannelli said.
The car wound up suspended by mangroves and other vegetationabout a foot above the shallow water.
“This is a swamp filled with snakes, bugs and probably analligator or two,” Fire-Rescue Division Chief Stephen McInernysaid. If the car had not been caught by the trees, she would havedrowned, he said.
Collected Rainwater For DrinkingWithin an hour of Vanelli’s call, rescuers freed Tooter andlifted her to safety.
She was covered with bruises and insect bites and severelydehydrated but was expected to survive, said Dr. Moshe Stav, whotreated her Broward General Medical Center.
Tooter told rescuers she used an aluminum steering wheel coverto collect rainwater for drinking, McInerny said.
“This 83-year-old lady had it all together,” he said. “Thatmay have made a difference between surviving and dying.”
The car had gone over the guardrail, possibly after being hitfrom behind by someone who never stopped.
Tooter told a relative the car flipped three times after it wentover the bridge, hospital spokesman Sara Howley said. After comingto rest, Tooter said, she was hanging from her seatbelt, which shethen unfastened.
“She was saved by her seat belt,” Stav said. “She would havehad facial and chest injuries but those were prevented.”
Happy Ending, Relieved FamilyTooter disappeared early Saturday while driving to FortLauderdale/Hollywood International Airport to pick up hergranddaughter Lori Simms and Simms’ boyfriend, whose flight fromNew Jersey was 3½ hours late.
“We called her and told her we would rent a car or get a cab,but she said ‘Don’t be silly. I’m awake. I’ll come get you,“‘ saidSimms, of Marlboro, N.J.
Video surveillance tape from her Pembroke Pines condo complexshowed her leaving at 2:54 a.m. Saturday, but she never arrived atthe airport.
After Simms called police from the airport nearly an hour later,police spent three days searching canals and lakes and alonghighways.