WARREN - Rescue workers in that dark, murky pond off Pine Avenue S.E. where a sport-utility vehicle crashed and landed upside down used their hands to feel for bodies inside the wreckage, pulling out one-by-one each of the trapped occupants.
When the passengers were freed, rescuers using a buoyant rescue basket worked the victims back to shore, where more safety workers helped transport the bodies up the hillside to waiting emergency medical personnel and ambulances.
Four Warren firefighters were in the cold water rescuing five teenagers from the submerged Honda Passport on Sunday, and also a sixth teen who was thrown from the vehicle during the crash and found beneath the SUV while it was being removed from the pond.
Tribune Chronicle / Virginia Shank
At least 20 members of local and national media attend a news conference Monday at the Warren City Schools Administration Building in downtown Warren concerning events of the Sunday accident that took the lives of six teens and injured two others. An Ohio State Highway Patrol report that included statements from the two survivors was released Tuesday.
Two of the eight teens from Warren in the crowded SUV were able to escape by breaking a rear window and ran at least a quarter-mile to a home on Burton Street S.E. to call for help.
The six people trapped inside, ages 14 to 19, were killed.
Warren firefighter Lt. Bill Smith, who was in the pond supervising the rescuers in the water, said firefighters had to break most of the SUV's windows to reach the trapped occupants, then located them mostly by feel. He described a fast-moving scene: As soon as one victim was on shore, the basket was needed back at the vehicle because another victim had been found.
In his 22 years, ''I can't think of a worse accident,'' he said.
''I wish we could have done more. We did everything we could to give them a chance,'' said Smith, one of three firefighters who trained the department to do cold water rescues.
Firefighter Capt. Bill Monrean, who was out front of the rescue squad by about 30 seconds, said he radioed the responding crew to prepare get in their cold water rescue suits after learning from people at a nearby business that people may have been in the SUV.
''We really didn't know if we had anybody. The initial report was maybe two people,'' said Monrean, the incident commander at the scene for the fire department.
As soon as the first firefighters in the water, Bryan Binko and Al Garretson, found the first victim, Monrean said he called in more firefighters. In three minutes, another nine were at the crash to help.
''We just continued rescue efforts,'' Monrean said. ''It's tragic because we didn't know there was that many people.''
Firefighter Les Hathaway was the fourth Warren firefighter in the water.
They had to work quickly; the protective suits insulate firefighters for only 30 to 45 minutes before they start feeling the effects of hypothermia. The water was only about 38 degrees, Monrean said.
And because of how the suit is designed - there is a face opening - firefighters try to keep their heads above water to prevent water from flowing into the suit, which lends to these types of rescues to being done mostly by feel.
In this instance, the bottom of the SUV chassis and wheels were not submerged, letting firefighters get everyone out by feel. But if the situation called for it, Smith said, a firefighter would go underwater to make a rescue.
A post-incident training session was done Sunday to review the incident and provide stress debriefing, Monrean said. Also, attention will be paid to the crew in the future to monitor the impact of such a tragic situation.
''It's hard to explain. At the time, I have a job to do and the easiest way to do that job is to withdraw yourself and maintain control while we're doing our job,'' Monrean said. ''It doesn't affect you until afterward.''
Some counseling resources are also available to firefighters in bad incidents like the crash.