Bruce Dobbs, out for his daily run, was jogging back to his Crystal City office yesterday afternoon when a car swerved off the George Washington Parkway, flew past him and landed in the Potomac River.
As the car began to sink, Dobbs said he could see the driver was doing nothing to help himself. Dobbs said he immediately jumped into the chilly water and swam to the passenger side of the car.
"I yelled to him to open the door or roll down the window," Dobbs recalled yesterday. "He just looked at me."
Dobbs, 46, eventually pulled the driver from the car and then swam with him to shore. The man just walked away. U.S. Park Police later found the driver, identified as Scott E. Paulding of Alexandria, at the Lincoln Memorial. He was admitted to a local hospital in fair condition.
Laurie Porter, another jogger who witnessed the accident and saw Dobbs jump into the river, said the driver did open the door but then closed it again as water rushed into the car. "The car started to tip forward and sink faster," she said.
Dobbs, who was on the other side of the car, said he continued to yell at the driver to get out of the car.
With less than six inches of the car roof showing, Dobbs said he pried open a rear window and dragged the driver from the car as it sank below the water.
Porter, standing on the shoreline, said she grew concerned about Dobbs who was clearly exhausted from the cold and the rescue work.
"Bruce was breathing loudly," said Porter, who later introduced herself to Dobbs and drove him to his office. As she watched Dobbs swim back to shore, she yelled encouragement to the motorist, she said. "I yelled, 'Kick, kick.' "
When the two men reached shore, Dobbs said the motorist simply stood up and walked quickly away without speaking to anyone.
Dobbs said he and Porter ran after the man to see if he needed help.
"He never spoke," Dobbs said. "He didn't seem to want any more assistance from us."
Lt. Bobby Williams of the U.S. Park Police said they took Paulding, who is about 28 years old, to George Washington Hospital when he told them he had been injured in the accident.
A spokeswoman for the hospital said Paulding was in fair condition and had no apparent physical injuries.
Williams said divers had to be called in to find the submerged car that ended up in 12 feet of water, about 150 yards north of the entrance to the Columbia Island Marina.
"It took us some time to find the car," he said. "The driver and the witnesses had left the scene by the time we got there."
Williams said they were told Paulding was wearing a red running suit and that helped them locate him about an hour after the accident.
Dobbs, who calls himself "an average American over 40 who tries to stay in shape", said he has had no rescue experience. "I am a rock swimmer which means I sink better than I swim," he said.
"I'm just so glad he is alive," said Dobbs, who manages a high-tech research and development office.
"I just couldn't watch the guy drown. I think I jumped into the water out of self-defense. I wouldn't have been able to live with myself if he had drowned and I had done nothing."