Paramedic Plunges Into Icy Water, Instantly Regrets It Until He See's What's Submerged Inside Car
LifeAspire Staff 3/23/2017
In a tumultuous day teeming with two deaths, one fire, one submerged vehicle and seven orphaned children, a hero emerged from the ashes. The background behind this real-life saga is quite sad, but one miracle did occur amidst the day of horror.
Early in the morning, neighbors spotted an SUV backing out of the Campbell family's home in Glen Carbon, Illinois. Then witnesses saw six of the family's seven children in pajamas who range in age from four to 14, sprinting across the road to a nearby Walmart. One was even dragging along a blankie.
At the store, the bedraggled children sought help from an employee who called 911 to report that the children's home was on fire. When rescue personnel arrived, they found the home engulfed in flames. The children's mom and dad were missing.
After the fire was extinguished, a body was found inside with a gunshot wound to the head. An autopsy conducted later confirmed that it was the children's father, Justin Campbell. His ex-wife, Cristy Campbell, who had full custody of their seven children, was gone. So was their three-month-old baby.
While investigating the house fire and murder, police received a call about an SUV that had plunged into a lake. Todd Zobrist and Ty Barr were the first to arrive on the scene to find the SUV submerged in icy water. Todd, who has worked for the Highland Fire Department for eight years as a paramedic, knew he had to act fast.
Knowing that there wasn't a minute to spare waiting for the dive team equipped with wetsuits and a boat to arrive, Todd tossed off his shirt, sweatshirt, socks and boots, then dove into the frigid cold water and swam 75 feet out into the lake. It was 29 degrees outside and 45 degrees in the water. He had second doubts about swimming out to the vehicle in nothing but his pants.
"I thought to myself, ‘This is a terrible decision and I need to just turn around and go back to the dock because I'm going to get myself in a lot of trouble.' But I was already wet, I was already cold."
When he reached the vehicle, there was only half a foot of air space left in the cabin of the SUV. At first, when he peered in through the driver's side window, Todd thought he saw a baby doll floating in the small space between the second and third rows of seats. But after a second glance that revealed the very top of a car seat, he realized the two hands and feet he saw actually belonged to an unconscious baby. It was Julian Campbell.
Todd snatched the lifeless baby out of the freezing cold water and climbed on top of the SUV to perform CPR on the roof. Once the baby gained consciousness and coughed up water, he reluctantly swam the backstroke back to the shore because the rescue team had been delayed. He knew he couldn't wait for them both to be rescued from atop the vehicle, so he held the baby up above the chilly water while he swam.
"I'm freezing. I'm absolutely in pain all over, muscles freezing up, not wanting to work. The baby was in severe danger. He needed to be warmed up immediately."
Once Todd reached the shoreline, his partner took the baby and continued tending to him. Todd sustained hypothermia after making the daring rescue. But he knew he wasn't about to let them both freeze to death in the middle of the lake.
"One little thing that went wrong may have been a totally different outcome. I don't know how much longer that baby could have been floating on top of that water before he no longer could have been revived."
After arriving on scene, the dive team took to the water and eventually found Cristy Campbell's body. A gun also was recovered from her SUV. The children who were at home at the time of the fire and their father's murder, were unharmed and are staying with relatives.
According to police reports, the Campbells had a difficult relationship. They divorced in 2013 after police had been called to their home approximately 50 times for various calls, including numerous domestic assault incidents inflicted upon Cristy by Justin, even while she was pregnant.
Cristy took out an emergency protective order against Justin at one point, claiming in court papers that he abused her on a weekly basis, including punching her, choking her and telling her that she was a "no good wife." Police reports also indicated that Justin punched his children during visitation.
Here is more about this heartbreaking story and the paramedic's plunge to save the baby.
While a young family has been torn apart by two deaths and forced from their fire-ravaged home, baby Julian remains the light of hope in this horrible situation. If it wasn't for Todd, who many hail as a hero, this terrible tale would've had a much different outcome.