LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) – Polk authorities are looking into what caused a former sheriff’s employee to run off the road and end up in a park lake.
Charles Custer’s body was recovered in his truck Wednesday afternoon at Saddle Creek Park in Lakeland.
Polk County Sherriff’s deputies say Custer, 86, was seen traveling westbound on Morgan Combee Road when he suddenly veered off the roadway and slid down an embankment and into Saddle Creek Lake. It quickly became submerged and rested at 30 feet underwater.
First responders Cody Bentz and Cimberly Harris were first on the scene.
They jumped in the alligator infested water.
“I grabbed the water rescue bag and me and the driver of the engine kicked our boots off, threw on a flotation device and jumped into where his vehicle was last seen,” said Bentz.
Witnesses said Custer ran off the road around 3:45 p.m.
Bystanders said Custer was awake and talking to the witnesses as they yelled at him to get out. His window was partially down. Custer was unable to get his seat belt off and get out of the truck, and it quickly became completely submerged underwater.
“We attempted as long as we were allowed to, then we went back and forth, up and down as much as we could,” said Bentz.
The first PCSO deputy sheriff to arrive on scene, Deputy Josh Ringdahl, also jumped into the water. They were unable to locate the truck.
The murky water made it hard to see.
“We swam around for about ten or fifteen minutes to try and find him,” said Harris.
PCSO deputies and fire officials responded to the scene, but they were unable to locate the truck and called in the PCSO Dive Team, which was able to recover the vehicle with Custer’s body inside, 30 feet under water.
Custer was employed by the PCSO as a civilian in Court Security from 1988-1999, according to the sheriff’s office.
“Charlie Custer was a good man, he was very active in the Masonic organization, and as I said, he worked in court security for us for about 11 years,” said Sheriff Grady Judd.
It was Bentz’s first day on the job. It was not the ending he wanted.
“I would have loved to found him and pulled him up out that water so he could go home to his family, but I definitely tried my hardest,” he said.
An investigation into the incident is ongoing.
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