Dorothy Evans stayed calm as first responders came to her assistance
By Marcy Stamper
Three days after her car plunged over a steep embankment into the Methow River and she spent more than half an hour perched on her car door, her feet dangling in the frigid water, Dorothy Evans’ only complaint was laryngitis and a sore throat.
Evans, age 86, was on her way home on Evans Road between Winthrop and Twisp on Friday (March 23) a little after 1 p.m. when her car slid in fresh, wet snow.
“It happened so quickly with snow on the muddy road. The car just started to skid and after that, I had no control. The car headed for the bank and down we went,” said Evans on Monday morning (March 26).
Evans’ 2005 Toyota Prius remained upright as it traveled some 50 feet down the steep bank, over slick cobbles and through scattered trees and shrubs. At one point it seemed the car was going to tip over, but it straightened up, said Evans. “I didn’t get hurt or bumped or anything,” she said.
Once the car hit the water, it drifted downstream for about 100 feet until the front of the car hit bottom and it came to rest on a gravel bar, said Evans. By watching the shore, Evans determined that the car was no longer moving.
She started to open the front windows, but the car began filling with water. So she closed them and climbed into the back seat and opened a rear window instead. Since the rear of the car was still floating, it was higher, and the water level — although up to the top of the doors — wasn’t getting deeper, said Evans.
Then she got out her cell phone — which she rarely uses — and after a few attempts reached 911.
Evans crawled out the rear window and perched on the windowsill, her feet still in the car, with the water almost up to her knees. At first it seemed the only thing to hold onto was the antenna, but she ultimately found a handle near the roof of the car for more support. Then she waited.
Heard the call
Ann Diamond was visiting Betsy Cushman, one of Evans’ neighbors on the dead-end road when the call came in. In fact, when she heard about the accident, Barb Preston, Cushman’s wife and an EMT with Aero Methow Rescue Service, called to see if Cushman was home.
Diamond and Cushman rushed down the road and were the first to arrive at the scene. They saw Evans’ tire tracks in the snow on the road, but no car in the river below. “It was heart-stopping to look over the bank and not see anything,” said Diamond.
They soon found Evans in her car further downstream and clambered down the bank to where Evans was stranded in the middle of the river, said Diamond. “We were worried she would literally lose her grip — she was cold,” said Diamond.
By then, first responders were arriving but nobody had a boat yet, said Diamond. Cushman knew there was a canoe next door at Evans’ daughter’s place. She and Diamond fetched the canoe and grabbed two of Cushman’s paddles — for a kayak and a stand-up paddleboard — and set out in the canoe to reach Evans.
Both are experienced boaters, Diamond is a physician and Cushman has worked as an EMT for Aero Methow.
They stabilized the canoe and car as a unit by feeding a paddle through the car window and were able to lean Evans back and ease her into the canoe, said Diamond. “We knew Dorothy was rock-solid and stable. She’s not a panicked person,” she said.
Meanwhile, first responders from Okanogan County Fire District No. 6 and Aero Methow, including a pair of swiftwater rescuers, were staging equipment and personnel to bring Evans safely up the bank. Evans saw all the people and flashing lights on the road above. “I could see there was help coming,” she said.
After Diamond and Cushman ferried Evans to shore, first responders brought down heat blankets and a hat. Diamond did an initial assessment to be sure Evans had no fractures or injuries that would affect her transport to the waiting ambulance. “She had no pain — she was just cold,” said Diamond.
“My feet were cold, but I didn’t feel cold from my feet up,” said Evans. “I don’t understand why I wasn’t colder. I was shivering — probably from the shock.”
Up to the road
The first responders outfitted a lightweight stretcher and formed a human chain with ropes to secure the group who carried Evans over the slick rocks to the road, said Rick Avery, search and rescue coordinator for the Okanogan County Sheriff’s Office, one of several dozen people who responded to the accident.
The Aero Methow team evaluated Evans in the ambulance and wanted to take her to the hospital. But Evans just wanted warm, dry clothes and to go home, said her son Tim Evans. “Her vital signs were all good,” he said after checking on his mother in the ambulance.
“There was no need to go to the hospital — there was nothing wrong,” said Evans herself.
In fact, Evans had had a doctor’s appointment the morning of her accident. She said her blood pressure was the same in the ambulance as it had been in the doctor’s office.
The two swiftwater experts weren’t needed to rescue Evans, but they did swim out to the car to connect cables for the tow truck.
Tyler Wellborn of Classic Towing in Winthrop maneuvered the controls on the tow truck while his brother Jeremy adjusted the cables on the riverbank as the car cleared the water. In eight years of business, it was the second or third time they’ve towed a car out of the river, said Tyler. “We’ve done worse. It was actually pretty easy,” he said before hauling the car along Evans Road through mud — sometimes up to the wheel wells.
As of press time, insurance adjusters hadn’t looked at the car.
Raised family on Evans Road
Evans and her husband moved to the Methow in 1960 and raised their family on a potato and cattle farm on Evans Road. They moved to a smaller house next door after their kids were grown.
Evans still hikes regularly and sends around photos of their adventures, said Tim’s wife, Kim.
“I’m really glad everything unfolded the way it did. It could have been really bad,” said Cushman. “Dorothy was able to help herself. She made good decisions the whole way, and thought through the whole process” — including making the right decision about opening the car windows. “She was patient and strong enough to hang with it,” said Cushman.
“She’s a tough one. I think she’s even tougher than she realized,” said Tim Evans.