NEWS- Unwelcome save: No charges in West Leigh suicide try
James McWilliams has had landscaping customers in the West Leigh neighborhood for 25 years and often sees people out and about. So when he saw a woman sitting in a car at the lake on Emerson Drive April 17, he didn't really think much about it.
What was unusual: looking up a little while later to see her car heading into the water.
"At first I thought she'd accidentally run off the road," says McWilliams. "I could see she was sitting in the car and looking straight ahead."
McWilliams and his associate, Jim Harlow, ran around the side of the lake toward where the car had gone in. "I saw it was going to sink," says McWilliams. "I told my friend to get a hammer."
After flagging down a woman driving by and asking her to call 911, he took off his heavy work boots and hit the water.
The Subaru station wagon floated out toward the middle of the lake before starting to sink, front-end first. "As the car filled up, she climbed into the back of the car," says McWilliams. "She was more or less expressionless."
He used the hammer to break the back window of the car, which was filled with clothes. "It looked like she was moving like a college student," he says.
He lifted the woman, whom he estimated to be in her 30s– "very attractive, thin"– into a canoe Harlow had fetched from a dock, and the two men swam the canoe to shore.
"She mentioned she didn't want to be saved," says McWilliams. "She tried to get back into the water."
The two men waited 15 to 18 minutes for rescue services to arrive, he estimates.
Police say no charges have been filed, and they decline to name the woman because she was admitted to UVA Medical Center for psychiatric evaluation.
Albemarle police Lieutenant John Teixeira says she had no physical injuries.
Candidate for Albemarle sheriff Larry Claytor was on the dive team that found the car and hooked it up to be towed out of the lake.
"It was pretty much a routine operation," says Claytor. "The car was totally under water and out of sight. I saw some bubbles and we dropped right on it. It was only about 10 feet down."
Claytor reports that a small amount of oil and gas came out of the car, and the Fire Department's hazmat unit put a thick absorbent pad around the lake's overflow. He credits the two landscapers for being there to rescue the woman.
McWilliams says he wasn't afraid to plunge into the lake because he's a pretty good swimmer. "I didn't want to have to go under water to get her," he says. "It was muddy." McWilliams remembers one other thing about the water that day: "It was cold."
This isn't his first rescue. "I saved my dog one time who fell through the ice," he says.
James McWilliams and Jim Harlow were cleaning up some trees that high winds had blown down in West Leigh when they noticed a car rolling into the subdivision's lake.
PHOTO BY WILL WALKER
The usually tranquil Loch Leigh in Ivy was the scene of an attempted suicide and dramatic rescue April 17.
PHOTO BY LUCIE STONE