Lexington sheriff’s, fire units pull woman from Saluda River below dam

jmonk@thestate.comFebruary 16, 2014 

— A 51-year-old woman was retrieved from her sunken car in the chill waters of the Saluda River and taken to a Lexington County hospital.

The woman, Rhonda Lee Pate, of Lexington, was listed in critical condition Sunday at Lexington Medical Center, said Lexington County Sheriff James Metts. He described her injuries as “life-threatening.”

Pate was trapped in her car, which for unknown reasons, rolled down a boat launch ramp at Saluda Shoals Park shortly between 7 and 8 p.m. Saturday.

Rescuers called to the scene by witnesses who saw the car go into the water could see the headlights and tail lights of the car about two feet under the surface of the river, said Irmo battalion fire chief Ben Smith. The car was a green 1999 Chevrolet Lumina sedan, and it was about 20 to 40 feet from the river bank, according to an incident report.

Pate had attended a wedding reception earlier at the Saluda Shoals River Center and consumed alcoholic beverages during the reception, Metts said.

“Detectives are investigating whether Pate’s consumption of alcoholic beverages was a factor in the incident.” Metts said in an email.

The park is nearly a mile below the Lake Murray dam.

Lexington County Fire Service firefighters wearing dry suits to protect them from the cold waters – about 55 degrees – extricated Pate from her car, officials said.

When she was retrieved, she had “a pulse and was still alive,” an incident report said.

The incident report also said that witnesses to the event saw the car being driven erratically in the parking lot before rolling down the boat ramp and into the river.

On the scene were units from the Sheriff’s department dive team, the Columbia and Irmo fire departments, the Lexington County EMS and members of the Lexington County Joint Swift-Water and Flood Rescue and Recovery Team.

Detectives are continuing to investigate the circumstances of the incident, Metts said.

Fortunately, said Irmo Fire Chief Mike Sonefeld, the river – whose current can vary greatly – was not flowing fast at the time of the event.

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