While enjoying the scenery at a local pond, Cesar Perozo’s afternoon took a shocking turn when he made a split-second decision to assist a woman whose SUV plunged into the cold waters on Friday, October 14.
Perozo, who is pastor of the Stoneham church in Stoneham, Massachusetts, was with a friend at Spy Pond in Arlington, Massachusetts, when 68-year-old Helen Joyce’s SUV careened down the embankment. Perozo’s friend called 911 while Perozo jumped into the water to rescue the driver. Bystanders recorded the incident and yelled instructions to Perozo as he swam toward the vehicle that was quickly filling up with water in the middle of the pond.
As he swam, Perozo thought, If I can just get her out of the car, somehow, I think I can rescue her. As he neared Joyce and saw her banging on the window, he realized she was not able to get out on her own. Finding an unlocked door, Perozo is heard on the video yelling, “You gotta come out!” as water quickly flooded into the vehicle cabin. Perozo managed to grab her hand and began pulling her from the sinking SUV when suddenly she was snatched away and pulled under the water from the force that occurred as the vehicle sank into the 40-foot deep pond. “I didn’t know if she got out [of the car], or was she sucked back into the vehicle,” Perozo recalled. “I had such a good, firm grip. I had her!”
Meanwhile, David Frasier of Boxford, Massachusetts, was swimming toward the accident to offer assistance. Perozo, devastated, exhausted, and cold, sadly began swimming toward the shore. Suddenly, Joyce’s head emerges from the water and the bystanders yelled, “There she is!” Frasier takes over and pushes a seat cushion that had become dislodged from the SUV toward Joyce instructing her to grab it and use is as a floating device. Fraiser was later assisted by Kenneth Chapman of Sydney, Australia, to bring Joyce to shore. Chapman was the third person to jump in to assist the woman.
Perozo, in shock from the encounter, wanted to go home, warm up, and tell his wife and foster daughter about the day’s events. He initially requested anonymity and declined to be contacted by the media so he could have some time to gather his thoughts. “I was just trying to catch my breath. I couldn’t think straight; there was so much adrenaline,” Perozo said. The next day, he contacted the Arlington police giving them permission to release his name as one of those who assisted the victim.
“I trust that God is always at work,” says Perozo. Back on shore, the rescuers stood with Joyce wrapped in blankets, holding hands while Fraiser prayed. Perozo remembers Joyce’s grip leaving his hand. “I felt terrible as I lost her,” he said. “As we all prayed together, I was holding her hand. I remember praising the Lord that I get to hold that hand again; and she is alive.”
Debra McKinney Banks, communication assistant, Atlantic Union Conference