HILLSDALE LAKE — All 88-year-old Leo Peters wanted to do was find the nearest highway so he could make it to Wichita on his way to his Arizona home.
But it was past 11 p.m., dark and raining when he took a construction detour off Interstate 35 and found himself lost near Hillsdale Lake on the evening of Saturday, June 22.
A wrong turn sent Peters down what usually is a gravel road leading to the Antioch Boat Ramp parking area at Hillsdale Lake. But the heavy downpour and previous flooding had turned the area into a lake of its own.
“I didn’t realize I was in water, but when I opened the door and water poured in, I realized I was in trouble,” Peters said.
With the vehicle inoperable, Peters grabbed his cellphone and called one of his friends. They quickly advised him to call 911, which he did.
Dispatch supervisor Allison Ray fielded the call at the Miami County Sheriff’s Office. Units, including Capt. Matthew Kelly and Sgt. Mitchell Talley, were dispatched to try and track down the trapped motorist at about 11:23 p.m.
But Peters was not sure where he was and unable to describe landmarks due to the darkness and his unfamiliarity with the area.
Ray was able to ping Peters’ phone to get a general location of 239th Street and Waverly Road, and the dispatcher and sheriff’s officers then devised a plan to locate his exact location. All of the units but one turned off their sirens, and Ray asked Peters to tell her when he heard the sirens and when they were getting closer.
Kelly and Talley arrived at the scene almost simultaneously, and they both waded out to the vehicle, which Kelly estimates was about 100 yards out into the water of Hillsdale Lake. In thigh-deep water, the sheriff’s officers were able to open the passenger door and rescue Peters.
“We had to help him walk up to a patrol car where we got him a blanket to stay warm,” Kelly said. “We believe he was in the vehicle for approximately an hour before getting to him.”
The man was transported to an area hospital as a precaution, and on Monday, June 24, he was able to personally thank his rescuers.
Knowing that Peters was from out of state without any family or friends nearby, Kelly helped him set up plans for a hotel and rental car, and then he personally picked up Peters at the hospital and transported him back to the sheriff’s office to meet Ray.
The dispatcher greeted him with a big hug.
“I’m glad you’re safe,” she said.
“I’m glad you saved me,” he replied.
Peters said he’s thankful for all of the help he has received, and although he will be returning home in a different car, he’s just happy to be returning home at all.
“I wouldn’t be here if they didn’t come get me,” he said. “I’m 88 years old, and I hope to reach 100.”