VENICE, Fla. (WFLA) — Police released new information Tuesday about a van that drove into water at Jetty Park in Venice on Monday, leaving two people dead.
The victims have been identified as 88-year-old Eugene Hayden and his 64-year-old daughter Carol Hayden. Police tell News Channel 8 that Carol was driving the car.
Witnesses told police the van went off the road around 4:20 p.m. and hit a park bench, then stopped, backed up and drove into the water. People nearby saw two people inside the van as it floated towards the Gulf.
Police said there was a strong outgoing tide and high wind at the time.
Several people jumped into the water from the jetty and even off of boats to try and help the two inside the van. Tim Cobb was on a boat nearby when he heard the crash. He jumped in and tried to help.
“When I swam up to the windows to begin with, the gentleman in the passenger seat was trying to unlock the doors, and just with all the water pressure, it was just impossible to open the doors,” said Cobb.
He could see the two faces inside as he struggled to set them free.
“They were frozen with fear, but they were definitely trying to get out…they certainly did everything they could to try and get out,” recalled Cobb.
The group of rescuers were able to break a back window on the car, and even touched the driver, but couldn’t get them out.
“[Eugene Hayden] was pulling on the handle, and I had both of my feet up against the van trying to get the door open, with thousands of pounds worth of water pressure, it just wouldn’t budge,” said Cobb.
Police showed up as the van was leaving the inlet and starting to sink. Once the van went under, Cobb knew there was nothing else he could do.
“I knew at that point, it was going to be a recovery, no visibility, you couldn’t see anything in the water,” said Cobb.
Cobb is annoyed that more people didn’t help out.
“A lot of people out with their phones out, but not a whole lot of people doing anything, it was frustrating,” he said.
Soon after, several agencies launched a recovery effort. The van was eventually located and brought to the surface using airbags. Cobb is disappointed that he wasn’t successful in saving them.
“Oh it was awful, it was the most disappointing thing I’ve ever gone through in my life,” he said.
The pair lived at the Village on the Isle Retirement Community. The CEO will hold a press conference Wednesday morning. You can watch live on WFLA.com and the WFLA Facebook page.
The Venice police chief thanked everyone who has helped with the investigation by sending in video of the incident. Police say the case is still under investigation.
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