Photo provided by Dr. Deepti Sadhwani
INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — Less than 15 minutes.
That’s how long Rich Wise remembers being trapped in a car that crashed into a canal as bystanders aided the injured man. The group, along with sheriff’s deputies and an off-duty firefighter, lifted the car on its side and held the vehicle up to keep Wise’s head above water, officials said.
“It was like a blur,” said the Palm Bay resident, 46, of the March 19 rescue. “If it weren’t for them, I don’t think I would be here today. They did an awesome job.”
Weeks later, Wise continues to recover thanks to the second chance given to him by his rescuers. The wreck left him with a broken arm, broken leg and a fractured eye socket, all on his left side, he said.
Wise is learning to walk again at the Avante Group assisted living facility in Melbourne. “I pretty much can’t use my left side,” Wise said.
The two-car crash that jolted Wise’s Nissan Sentra into the canal happened about 7:40 a.m. at 66th Avenue and 69th Street, according to officials. Wise said he was driving alone to the Florida Department of Health, where he works as a human services program specialist.
When Wise approached the intersection, he saw the other car’s headlights out of the corner of his eye. Wise said the other car struck the passenger side of his Sentra, jolting the vehicle on its roof and into the two-foot deep canal.
Bystanders rushed to help Wise, who was trapped, by lifting the vehicle, Indian River County Fire Rescue Battalion Chief Kyle Kofke said.
“It happened so fast,” Wise said. “I remember a person’s arms reaching into the car trying to re-position me.”
Wise said he recalls being wet, but doesn’t remember being in the water.
“They saved his life by holding the vehicle up,” Kofke previously said. Firefighters used equipment to cut the car open to free Wise.
Wise said he remembered being pulled up a hill and being loaded into an ambulance, tended to by paramedics. Paramedics then took Wise, who was seriously hurt, to Lawnwood Regional Medical Center & Heart Institute in Fort Pierce, Kofke previously said.
On March 27, Wise was transferred to the rehab facility.
“These last couple of weeks have been pretty rough,” Wise said. “I’m in a lot of pain.”
Wise is using a walker to take steps a few feet at a time.
Doctors told Wise it would be about 12 weeks before his injuries are completely healed. Even with the pain, Wise said he is still thankful to be alive.
“I reached out to the off-duty firefighter through Facebook and thanked him,” Wise said. “I’m happy to be here.”
Wise continues to receive support from his husband, Shawn Leary, 47, of Palm Bay. Wise said highway troopers told him the driver of the other vehicle was given a citation for running a stop sign.
“It was reckless, regardless,” Wise said.
Photos provided by Dr. Deepti Sadhwani