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Hero of pond rescue can't swim

As a car sinks with a woman trapped inside, the plumber knows he has no choice. Hammer in hand, he jumps in.

Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 8, 2003

PORT RICHEY - Ann Adamski, 86, tidied her brown hair, put on her pearl earrings and drove off Wednesday morning in her white Ford Crown Victoria, heading to a doctor's appointment.

Minutes later, an oncoming car swerved into her lane.

She jerked the wheel to the right and ran off the road. She crashed through a wooden fence, plowed through a yard, uprooted several banana trees.

She couldn't stop.

"I got so nervous," Adamski said.

Just ahead, she saw water.

The yard and fence belong to Tracy Olson, a self-employed plumber who, at that moment, was repairing his fishing reel. When he heard the crash, he looked out the window and saw a car sliding into a small pond.

Barefoot, Olson ran outside.

He saw an elderly woman in the driver's seat, gesturing wildly.

He wanted to help. But Olson, 41, can't swim.

So he stood on the bank, screaming: "Open the window! Climb out!"

As the car sank, Olson ran back to his house.

Inside the car, brown water covered the windshield and poured inside. It circled her ankles, her knees, then her waist.

She pressed a button and tried to lower the electric window. Nothing.

Adamski panicked.

She looked over at the bank and saw Olson, running back toward her.

He had a hammer.

"Man, I got to go swimming," Olson said to a bystander who stopped to help. He knew the water was about 7 feet deep, but he didn't think too long.

Olson waded into the pond.

He held the hammer in one hand and dog-paddled with the other, moving toward the car.

He reached the rear driver's side window and began hammering it. On the third try, the glass shattered and water began spilling inside.

"I'm going to grab you, but you have to climb through the window," he told Adamski.

Adamski tried to turn around but her foot was stuck.

"We've got to get going before the alligators get us," Olson shouted, thinking of the gator that frequently suns in his back yard.

Adamski jerked her foot free.

Olson pulled her over the seat and through the window. She started dog-paddling toward shore, with Olson behind, giving her a push when he could.

"We were both fumbling," Olson said. "I just kept pushing her to the shore. We were swimming through trees. It was a tangled mess."

They reached the bank and slowly climbed out.

Tired, shaking, Adamski sat down.

She looked toward the pond and saw bubbles rising from the faint outline of her sunken car.

Pasco County sheriff's deputies found her there, legs stretched across the grass, her brown hair damp, her black shirt soaked, one sandal missing.

"I could have drowned," she said.

She told the deputies that a car had swerved into her lane on eastbound Fox Hollow Drive and she simply tried to avoid a collision.

She told them that her husband, Felix, had bought the 1997 Crown Victoria before he died about three years ago.

She said she wasn't hurt.

"I'm just nervous," she said. "I just thank the Lord that I made it out. I want to see the man who saved my life."

Shortly after, Olson returned to his back yard. He had showered and put on a clean gray shirt. He held a cigarette in his hand.

He walked over to Adamski, bent down and put his arm around her shoulder.

"You know I can't swim," he joked softly.

"Oh, did that scare me," she said. "I'll pray for you. You are my angel."

She said she was sorry about his fence.

Olson said he didn't mind, eyeing the clear path to the pond.

"Now I've got a great spot for fishing," he said.

Sheriff's Sgt. Raymond Stanley stood nearby, smiling.

"In this type of situation, if you say, "Oh my God, what do I do?' it's too late," Stanley said. "He couldn't swim, but he jumped in. He did what he had to do. He saved her life."

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