By Ed Runyan
The 7:56 a.m. 911 call from a woman who had just observed a minivan travel off Niles Vienna Road and into Girard Lake was alarming enough.
But moments later, the woman told a dispatcher the vehicle had overturned, and: “There’s kids in the car.”
The male dispatcher’s voice became more concerned as he tried to pinpoint the location for first responders.
“One of the people who stopped at the van just pulled a little girl out,” the woman said of a child about 3 years old. “There’s a baby in a carrier they’re pulling out now.”
The harrowing scene played out over the next eight minutes, as the woman and possibly a second caller kept the 911 operator appraised of efforts of four bystanders to get down the bank and pull the children to safety.
The children and their mother, who is from Burghill, all made it out uninjured, Lt. Brian Darbey of the Vienna Police Department said at the scene a short time later.
A police report says the driver is Michelle Campo, 28, of state Route 7. The children in the minivan are age 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6.
The children were cold, wet and “scared out of their mind,” a 911 caller told the dispatcher, but they all went home to get warm, and none went to the hospital, Darbey said.
“The baby is moving in the blankets. One of the spectators actually saw the truck slide off. They have the two kids sitting on top of the vehicle and they are passing them up, but I don’t know how many more are down there,” the caller said.
As the children started to be rescued, the dispatcher became concerned about cold lake water, asking: “Is the car filling up with water?”
“Yes,” the caller said, pausing. “Fortunately it’s close to the,” but the woman didn’t continue the sentence while she directed one of the rescuers to “put the baby in the car. My car’s right there, in the back seat. The heater’s on.
“I’m sorry, we’re trying to get these kids because it’s freezing and the kids are all wet,” the caller said.
“We’ve got three out. A baby and a little boy and a little girl, and we’re putting them in a car to keep them warm,” she said.
“The driver’s still in and we’re trying to get the last two kids out. They are all little kids. I think the driver is awake enough to help hand the babies out. It looks like there is someone in the vehicle who is moving around trying to push the kids out of the car.”
In the minutes that followed, the last children were rescued and then the mother.
“We are putting them in people’s cars who have stopped,” the caller said. “The kids look perfectly fine. They’re just scared out of their mind.”
At 8:04 a.m., about eight minutes after the 911 call began, the caller said: “We have everybody out of the van. Even the driver is climbing up onto the street now.”
Darbey later clarified that there’s not a lot of water in Girard Lake right now. It is probably especially shallow near the edge, where the minivan slid off of the slushy road and landed on its side. There’s no guard rail at that location near Scoville North Road.
It was apparent from looking at the van later that the reason the children got wet is because the van broke the ice when it landed, allowing water to enter on the driver’s side, which was against the ice.
Darbey said it appeared Campo was taking one or more children to school because one of the kids had a backpack, but the police report released about 4:30 p.m. didn’t provide many details.