Christmas Comes Early for Rescued Mother and Child

A park bench was damaged when Lee Ann Lawson accidentally drove into Post Office Lake on Friday.
A park bench was damaged when Lee Ann Lawson accidentally drove into Post Office Lake on Friday. (Photos By Mark Gail -- The Washington Post)
By Amit R. Paley and Dan Morse
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, December 24, 2006

It was a nightmare before Christmas. One minute Christian Lawson was chatting with his wife on her cellphone as she drove their 2-month-old son to a holiday party. And then . . .

"Oh my God!" Lee Ann Lawson screamed. The phone went dead.

Christian frantically called back, again and again. No answer. Finally she picked up.

"I'm in the lake and we're sinking!" he recalled Lee Ann shrieking Friday afternoon after she lost control of her champagne-colored sport-utility vehicle and landed in a Charles County lake. "Help me! Please help me!"

His mind raced: This was supposed to be their first Christmas with their new son. Would it instead be his first alone?

While Christian braced for the worst, two strangers jumped into the frigid water to rescue Lee Ann and baby Nikolas from the sinking SUV. One of the good Samaritans, a middle school vice principal, helped pull the baby and mother onto the roof of the nearly submerged vehicle. The other, a retired captain with the Charles sheriff's office, waded with the baby -- still strapped into his car seat -- over his head and to safety on Post Office Lake's shore.

"I felt terrorized," Lee Ann, 26, of Mechanicsville, said in a near-whisper yesterday afternoon. "There wasn't anything I could do to stop it. I just felt, well -- " She stopped talking. Then, after a few moments of silence, Lee Ann began sobbing uncontrollably.

Christian said his wife, who along with their baby was not hurt, has been consumed by overwhelming guilt. "She says, 'I almost killed our son.' And I say, 'It's not your fault.' It could happen to anyone. Accidents will happen -- even right before Christmas."

The incident occurred as Lee Ann, a part-time title clerk at a car dealership, was driving to a workplace Christmas party. She had been trying to turn her Chevrolet Trailblazer left from St. Thomas Drive onto St. Charles Parkway in Waldorf. But she lost control and drove into a small lake adjacent to St. Charles Parkway, the sheriff's office said.

It was raining and her car began to slide out of control, Lee Ann recalled, so she overcorrected and accidentally drove down the embankment. Authorities said her car floated about 75 feet into the lake and began to sink.

Lee Ann said that she tried to open the doors to her car but that they were stuck. She had managed to get the window on the driver's side open when she heard a banging.

It was Sue DelaCruz, a vice principal at Stoddert Middle School in Waldorf, who had waded into the lake, which reaches depths of seven feet, to save the mother and child. Lee Ann handed the baby -- in his car seat -- through the open window to DelaCruz, who placed him on the roof of the car. Then Lee Ann wiggled out.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2006 The Washington Post Company