When Colette Smith crashed her car during the early hours of Nov. 30, she wasn’t sure where she had landed. She thought her car had landed in a ditch, but when she tried the doors she couldn’t climb out.
Then her car started filling up with water, and she realized she had landed in the Centralia Canal.
Smith said she had been driving through Yelm on State Route 507 when she hit a patch of ice at the intersection with Vail Road. The Spanaway resident said she tried to stop, but ended up crashing through a fence.
“I thought I was in a ditch, so I called a friend to get me out,” Smith said. “Then I noticed my car was filling up with water, so I called the police.”
That’s where Yelm police Officer Devon Taylor and Thurston County Sheriff’s Deputy Brett Campbell come in. The two officers are credited with saving Smith’s life, and were honored for their actions at an award ceremony Friday afternoon at the Thurston County Courthouse.
Campbell and Taylor received the Medal of Courage and the Lifesaving Award.
Campbell said he was in the Yelm area when he heard a call regarding a vehicle that had driven off the road and crashed in the water.
“My first thought was, ‘Please don’t let it be the canal,’” Campbell said. “The water is so swift and so deep there. But sure enough, it was in the canal.”
He arrived at the scene a few seconds after Taylor, and saw the car floating at a 45-degree angle, nose down in the water.
Campbell said he held Taylor’s arm as the Yelm officer leaned over the canal. Taylor broke out the car’s back window with his baton, and Smith was able to climb onto the trunk. The two officers were able to pull her to safety just as the car sank farther.
“It was literally the last second,” Taylor said.
“It really seemed like something out of a movie,” Campbell added. “We barely got her out of there.”
Smith said that she was in disbelief when she reached safety — the only thing she could think about was her purse, which was still in the sinking car. But within a few minutes, she realized how lucky she was to have escaped with only a few cuts on her hands.
“They had me out of there so quickly,” Smith said. “And thank God for their good grip.”
Yelm Police Chief Todd Stancil echoed her sentiments at the award ceremony, and said it was a miracle Taylor and Campbell were both able to respond so quickly.
“One of them along probably couldn’t have done it,” Stancil said.
Lt. Cliff Ziesemer, of the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office, said there was no indication that drugs or alcohol contributed to the crash, and investigators determined that Smith had been driving too fast for the conditions.