A Cape Coral police officer became a hero Friday after saving the life of a driver who crashed his car into a canal in the north part of the city.
Officer Stephen Burkhart jumped into the canal on the 900 block of Diplomat Parkway to rescue a man, about 30, from his vehicle shortly before it sank late Friday morning.
According to reports, the car veered off the road, went down an embankment and into the water at the intersection of Northwest 9th Avenue and Diplomat at 11:21 a.m., according to the 911 caller who witnessed the incident.
When Burkhart arrived on the scene, he said two men were also in the canal attempting a rescue. The driver was conscious, but in a state of shock when Burkhart dove in and arrived at the car.
"He seemed kind of panicked that his car was in the water," said Burkhart, a Cape Coral police officer since 2009, at an afternoon news conference. "He looked like he had just seen a ghost."
When the driver didn't respond to requests to open the door, which was already chest-deep in water, Burkhart broke the glass on the driver's side rear door with his baton and dragged the driver out of the car as it sank to the bottom of the 10-foot-deep canal.
"The roofline of the vehicle went below water, I stuck my hand in, grabbed the front of his shirt and pulled as hard as I could," Burkhart said. "Thank God he came out."
Burkhart then swam him to the hood of the car and held him afloat until rescue officers threw them a lifeline to get them out of the water.
The driver, whose identity was withheld, was transported to Cape Coral Hospital. Burkhart said the driver was about 6 feet tall and weighed about 230 pounds.
Burkhart said it wasn't the first time he had jumped in the water, saying he had to do it to apprehend someone. In fact, being able to do so is a prerequisite to getting the job.
"We have more canals than any other city in the state and it's something you have to prove proficiency in," Burkhart said. "It's something they train for and I'm glad they do."
Burkhart, who returned to duty after the news conference, said he was simply doing his job in the way he was trained to do so.
"I wasn't worried about what was in the water. I was worried about his safety as much as mine. I just wanted to get him out of the car so we can both get out of here," Burkhart said. "It's not the first time my heartbeat's been that high."