Couple escapes from sinking car

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Trapped in a sinking car was not how a Craig couple imagined their workday starting Tuesday.

But after quick thinking, both were able to escape without injuries.

Bitaliano Martinez, 37, of Craig, and his wife, Raquel Silerio, 33, of Craig, were heading east on U.S. Highway 40 near Riverside Plaza at about 8 a.m. Tuesday morning, Steamboat Springs police Officer Bill Stucker said. Traffic was fairly heavy.

Just as they passed the building that used to house True Value, the couple's 1990 white Subaru was rear-ended and veered off the highway and down a short embankment, according to eyewitness reports. The car ended up in a small but deep pond off the side of the road.

The car immediately was submerged to the bottom of its windows and was sinking fast. Martinez, the driver, rolled down the power windows, which, fortunately, still were working.

Martinez and Silerio climbed out the windows, crawled on top of the car and stood on its roof as they waited for help. The car, however, continued to sink. Within minutes, the couple was knee-deep in pond water.

Help arrived about 15 minutes after the car plunged into the pond, Silerio said. Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue personnel extended a ladder from the shore to the roof of the car, and Martinez and Silerio crawled along it to safety.

The car continued to sink, sending bubbles to the surface as it descended.

After she was on dry land, rescue workers wrapped Silerio in a blanket to keep her warm.

Martinez and Silerio said they were scared because the accident happened so quickly and gave them little time to respond.

"I didn't think," Martinez said in Spanish. "There wasn't time."

Stucker said that reports suggest Martinez stopped when the car ahead of him stopped, but the car behind him did not stop. Speed was not a factor in the accident, he said.

The car that hit Martinez's car from behind was driven by Scott Staud, 34, of Craig. Staud was issued a citation for careless driving.

Steamboat Springs Fire Chief Bob Struble said that after the car was pulled from the lake, emergency personnel would spray a substance that eats hydrocarbons onto the pond to help clean up the spilled gasoline.

The car was extracted at about noon. A tow truck pulled out the car after divers from Routt County Search and Rescue descended to the bottom of the pond and attached cables to the car.

Martinez said it was the first time he's been in an accident. He was disappointed that his car was totaled.

"I need my car," he said. "I need to work."

But he and Silerio were happy that they were OK, as were rescue workers.

"We're very thankful that they were able to extricate themselves the way they did," said Matt Newman, a firefighter and emergency medical technician.

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