Woman Rescued From Car Upside Down in Beaver Brook

Six men raced the clock to save Laurie Donofrio, 43, who had driven off the road and into Beaver Brook on Gilcreast Road last week. The six men, identified as Doug Ball, a Gilcreast Road resident; Jim Ornsteen, also of Londonderry; Craig Dempsey and Bernie Rouillard, both of Windham; and Mike Elliot and Robert Maiella, both of Derry, arrived separately at the scene of the 2 p.m. crash on Thursday, April 18. Rouillard said he was coming home early from work and saw a woman looking down into the brook and when he pulled over, he saw the car.“Two guys and myself went into the water; seconds later three more guys arrived,” Rouillard said. “The car was upside down and we tried to use a crowbar to open the door but it was locked, and the woman inside was hanging upside down by her seat belt. We started rocking the car to get her so her head was out of the water. I noticed she wasn’t breathing and someone covered her face with a shirt and broke the front window.”
“I drove up and saw cars on the side of the road and I would have driven past because people go fishing there all the time, but I noticed someone on a cell phone and looking into the water, which made me look,” Dempsey said. “That’s when I saw the car upside down in the water. There were a couple of guys down there so I parked on the side of the road and went down to join them to see if I could help.”
Dempsey said the men he joined were trying to get the door opened with a crowbar but it wasn’t working.
“Her head was under water and we tried to push the car upriver to a more shallow spot where her head wouldn’t be in the water, but it didn’t work. Gary took off his shirt and covered her face and we broke the window to get her out, but she was tangled with her seat belt,” Dempsey said.
He said it was a relief to see her start breathing after they were able to cut the seat belt. “After cutting the seat belt she was free and she started to spit out water and gasp for air, and we brought her to the river bank and waited for the emergency crews. We could hear the sirens,” Rouillard said. Rouillard said Ball, who lives in the log cabin near the crash site, said he had heard something and went to look out his window and noticed a sapling bent over.
“He was quick to put two and two together and went out to investigate and saw the car,” Rouillard said.
Acting Londonderry Fire Chief Darren O’Brien said of the incident, “Crews were dispatched to an overturned vehicle in Beaver Brook with an unresponsive person inside. Upon arrival at the east side of the bridge, bystanders had gotten her out of the vehicle. There were reports that while she was in the vehicle that she was unresponsive, but when crews arrived she was breathing on her own, conscious and alert, and was transported to Parkland Medical Center.
“There was concern that maybe her husband was in the water, however a search did not locate (him) and it was confirmed by Londonderry Police that the husband was located at his job and notified of the events,” O’Brien said.
He said fire crews set up a hazardous materials boom in the water to prevent any leakage from the vehicle drifting downstream, and the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services was notified. The car was lifted out of the water by a towing company.
The family of Donofrio said it was a miracle for the men to be at the right place at the right time.
“She was not alone unconscious in that cold, dark, murky water. It was no quirk of fate that six strong men, totally unconnected, were all traveling down a suburban back road, at precisely 2 o’clock on a weekday afternoon,” Donofrio’s mother, Robin Topham of Windham, said. “It is the sincere wish of the family that the focus remain on the six guys who deserve the spotlight,” she added.

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