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Hurricane Dennis

Driver escapes from sinking pickup

A Tampa man gets out through a back door of his truck after gusty winds push it off Interstate 275 into the bay.

By KEVIN GRAHAM
Published July 11, 2005


[Times photo: Ken Helle]
Tampa police divers Sgt. Alan Draffin, left, and Officer Randy Lopez struggle against the surf stirred by Hurricane Dennis as they try to hook a line to the Toyota pickup that was swept into Tampa Bay on Sunday afternoon. Rick DeSciscio, 44, had crossed the Howard Frankland Bridge heading into Tampa when the truck landed in the bay.

TAMPA - The dark green Toyota Tacoma pickup began to sink almost instantly after it plunged into Tampa Bay - with Rick DeSciscio still behind the wheel.

He tried frantically to open his door first, then the passenger side. Both were jammed.

He balled his fist and punched at the glass from inside, but the water pressure was squeezing the truck.

His adrenaline rising as fast as the salt water inside his truck, DeSciscio, 44, climbed into the back seat of the four-door pickup and tried a third door, then the fourth and final door. It opened. DeSciscio scrambled out and onto the bed of the truck.

But the angry waves had pushed the truck out into the bay. Running out of time, DeSciscio had no choice: He dove into the water as the truck sank.

He swam to shore and safety.

"I don't know how I went in," DeSciscio said Sunday, recalling the harrowing moments. "I don't remember going in."

He stood on shore for about five minutes, DeSciscio said, before someone finally noticed he had driven his pickup off Interstate 275 after crossing the Howard Frankland Bridge and through a chain-linked fence and into the bay.

As best DeSciscio could recall, a gust of wind began pushing against his pickup Sunday afternoon just before 1 p.m. He was traveling east to Tampa on the Howard Frankland in the far right lane.

DeSciscio had made it about half a mile south of Kennedy Boulevard exit when the wind gusts began to pick up. He said the wind pushed him onto the wet, grassy shoulder to the right of the road which caused him to slide into the water. The National Weather Service in Ruskin recorded wind gusts as high as 46 mph just before the accident.

"We just thank God," said Jodi, his wife. "We believe he was the one that helped him get out of the truck."

She rushed to the scene after her husband called to tell her what happened. When she arrived, the couple shared a hug and kiss then walked hand in hand to the water's edge for a closer look at the submerged vehicle.

"He's very fortunate that we don't have a tragic ending," said Officer Randy Lopez, a member of Tampa police's dive team. "Now it's just a matter of recovering the vehicle."

DeSciscio lives in Tampa and works as a paint contractor. He said he was returning home after taking paint to a work site in St. Petersburg.

On the Pinellas side of the Howard Frankland Bridge, the Florida Highway Patrol shut down the far right lane of the bridge. Salt water from the bay splashed over the seawalls and onto the interstate.

"These are adverse conditions," said Lopez. "Add the element of the urgency of a storm and people trying to get home ... this is the end result."

DeSciscio paced the roadway while the police dive team tried to pull his truck ashore. He thought about all his business files and checkbook that were inside the truck. He wondered what his accountant would say when he found out.

Then, his adrenaline began to wear off. His back began to ache and fists began to hurt. He squatted down next to a police vehicle and thought to himself, at least he made it out alive.

--Kevin Graham can be reached at 813 226-3433 or kgraham@sptimes.com

[Last modified July 11, 2005, 07:26:28]


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