Shortly after 2 a.m. on Monday, Christopher Sullivan, general manager of Yang’s Palace restaurant, was sleeping in his apartment over the establishment when he heard the grating sound of tire rims on the parking lot outside. Sullivan went outside to investigate the noise and saw a Toyota Camry ride across the parking lot on flat tires, strike a pontoon boat on blocks hard enough to move the vessel off its supports and crash into the canal nearby.
Sullivan said this week he ran down to the parking lot and quickly jumped into the canal in an effort to rescue its driver, later identified as Taylor Cole Vanderhook, 23, of Fenwick Island, who was reportedly screaming and crying while talking on her cell phone. At first, Sullivan attempted to push the vehicle, which was still floating somewhat, although it was rapidly taking on water, toward a floating dock on the opposite side of the canal.
However, Sullivan was unsuccessful in moving the vehicle, which was filling quickly and starting to sink. He then got out of the canal and attempted to reach the sinking vehicle with a rake he found nearby in attempt to pull it closer to the dock to no avail. Sullivan said this week he then ran around the area looking for something to break the car’s window with when he stumbled over a four-by-four board in the dark.
Armed with the four-by-four board, Sullivan jumped on the trunk of the sinking vehicle and smashed out the back window in an effort to release Vanderhook. After some effort and a little struggle, Vanderhook, with Sullivan’s help, climbed out of the broken window to safety with about six inches of air space left under the roof. Seconds later, the Toyota Camry completely sunk in the canal estimated to be around 10 feet deep in its center.
Sullivan said the entire sequence of events took about five to 10 minutes, but it seemed like an hour at the time.
“It was like everything was happening in slow motion,” he said. “I was in and out of the water a couple of times and was running around the area looking for something to break the window with, and it was only a matter of minutes, but it seemed so long. It was surreal.”
Sullivan said this week the grating noise of tireless rims on the gravel parking lot alerted him to the situation and likely prevented Vanderhook from quietly drowning in the sinking vehicle.
“I really think if she wasn’t making that much noise, she would be dead,” he said. “I only heard it because I happened to be right there, but at 2 a.m. on a Sunday night in the middle of November, there wasn’t a soul around. Even when I ran down there and started screaming for help, I never saw another person or a light turn on at another residence or even another car go by. Less than a minute after I got her out, the car sank.”
Ocean City Police spokeswoman Jessica Waters this week agreed with Sullivan’s assessment of the direness of the situation.
“I truly believe she would not be here if it weren’t for him,” she said. “One minute he’s sleeping in his apartment, the next minute he’s diving in the water and smashing out the window of a sinking car.”
Once he surveyed the situation, Sullivan ran back inside and called the owner of Yang’s Palace and told him to call 911. He then went back out and dove into the canal to make his first attempt at saving Vanderhook. Even after he smashed the car window and rescued Vanderhook, the allegedly intoxicated and dazed victim questioned Sullivan about what he had done.
“She said, ‘Dude, I am so going to kill you, look at what you did to my car,’” he said. “When I picked her up, she said, ‘Okay, I’m good.’ Then she said, ‘you didn’t grab my purse’ and ‘what did you do with my car.’ I had to explain, “sweetheart, your car just sank and you’re lucky to be alive.”
By the time
Police located a completely soaked Vanderhook on a nearby bus stop, apparently attempting to leave the scene. Vanderhook was arrested and charged with driving under the influence of alcohol and leaving the scene of a property damage accident for striking and damaging the boat stored in the parking lot.
After she was taken into custody and was being transported to the
As far as Sullivan goes, the hero said this week he did only what anybody else would have done in the same circumstances.
“I think anybody who heard the crying and screaming would have done the same thing,” he said.
The Ocean City Police Department and Fire Department are planning to present Sullivan with their highest “Civilian Award for Outstanding Service,” which is awarded to civilian personnel or a citizen who performs some act involving personal danger above and beyond what is required or expected of a citizen.
“The Ocean City Police and Fire Departments would like to acknowledge the selfless act of bravery committed by Mr. Sullivan for his heroic actions this morning,” a statement from the departments on Monday read. “This citizen braved 50-degree water in dark and foggy weather conditions, placing him at great risk to come to the aid of Vanderhook. This selfless act saved Vanderhook from certain serious bodily harm and/or death.”