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When car sinks, they don't wait

Not feeling well, Frank Incaudo drives his Cadillac into the Intracoastal Waterway. After a feverish rescue effort, he is taken to a hospital with life-threatening injuries.

By TAMARA EL-KHOURY
Published September 10, 2006


MADEIRA BEACH —  Frank Incaudo sat in the driver’s seat of his car, stared out his window and watched Brian Smith swim toward him.

Incaudo’s white 2005 Cadillac was sinking in the Intracoastal Waterway, and he was trapped inside.

About 4 p.m. Sunday the 81-year-old Largo resident left the American Legion Post 273 after saying he didn’t feel well, Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Sgt. Jim Bordner said.

In the parking lot, which is bordered by water, someone saw Incaudo back his car into a parked car, Bordner said. Wanting to get the tag number, the witness turned to get something to write with, and when he turned back, the car was in the water.

Smith, 47, a musician playing at the American Legion at 600 American Legion Drive, was on a break inside the hall when he heard someone call 911.

“It was just instinct; I had to get in the water,” Smith said.

So did Wally Paulauskas, the kitchen manager at the American Legion, who emptied his pockets and threw off his hat as he ran toward the car.

“I truthfully don’t remember jumping in the water,” he said.

But he remembered the look on Incaudo’s face.

“Scared. I mean, scared,” Paulauskas said.

The car doors were locked. Another person joined the rescue attempt.

The rescuers began punching and kicking at the windows, trying to break the glass, Paulauskas said. Smith got a rock from shore and tried to break through.

The trunk was open, and one of the men tore the back panel. A side vent window was slightly open and Paulauskas said he reached his arm in and held Incaudo up by his chin.

Then the car began to go under and started pulling the men with it.

“God, help me,” Incaudo said.

The three rescuers were still in the water when two deputies and a firefighter joined them just moments later, Bordner said.

Incaudo was underwater for at least a couple of minutes, Bordner said.

One deputy used a punch device to break a side window and pulled out the unconscious Incaudo.

Incaudo, of 5141 East Bay Drive, Lot 21, was taken to St. Petersburg General Hospital by ambulance with life-threatening injuries, Bordner said.

Moments before the accident, Maria Manier was dancing with Incaudo at the Legion hall.

He told her he was diabetic. She said he told her that he should have taken a salt tablet.

“He was in there dancing away,” Manier said.

Then he walked out the door to his car.