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Lisa Call, Forum Communications Co., Published November 06 2009

Police: No way to tell if victims tried to escape

DICKINSON, N.D. – Questions linger about whether three Dickinson State University softball players could have escaped from their vehicle before they drowned in a stock pond northwest of Dickinson.

Last heard from on Sunday evening, Kyrstin Gemar, 22, Ashley Neufeld, 21, and Afton Williamson, 20, were found Tuesday afternoon in Gemar’s Jeep Cherokee, submerged in the 12-foot pond.

There is no way to tell how fast the vehicle sank, said Lt. Rod Banyai of the Dickinson Police Department.

Banyai said while the vehicle’s windows were up and the doors were unlocked, there is also no way to tell how or if the women tried to escape.

“When a vehicle is submerged, the electrical system shorts out so rolling the windows down or even unlocking the door becomes an issue,” said Dickinson Fire Department Chief Bob Sivak.

When a vehicle leaves a road, landing in deep water, its surface float time may be 30 seconds to four minutes, according to the Web site of Lifesaving Resources Inc., a water rescue training and consulting corporation.

Curt Lefor, Dickinson Rural Dive Rescue member and Dickinson Rural Fire Department chief, said water can seep into all vehicle cracks and vents and the vehicle will fill up quickly.

About 1,500 vehicle submergence incidents and 600 related deaths occur each year, according to the Web site.

Area rescue experts said quick thinking and swift hands are vital to an escape.

Windows should be opened immediately, he said.

If the vehicle has not filled up and despite a large amount of pressure from outside water, windows can still be broken from the inside, Lefor said.

Because side windows are most often made with tempered glass, they will shatter, not just spider web, Lefor said.

Sivak said breaking a windshield is virtually impossible and if the vehicle is not filled with water, the door cannot be opened because pressure is not equalized.

“Don’t panic, because you’re going to have to wait for that pressure to equalize,” Banyai said.

Lisa Call is a reporter for the Dickinson Press, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.