A homeless Pratt man, Donald Petterson, escaped drowning when is 1996 Toyota RAV 4 rolled into Pratt County Lake Sept. 1. He escaped through an open window before the car sank into the lake.
A homeless Pratt man who lives in his vehicle escaped drowning Saturday when his vehicle rolled into Pratt County Veteran’s Memorial Lake.
Donald Petterson, 58, lives in a 1996 Toyota RAV 4. He spends a lot of time fishing at the Pratt Lake. On Saturday morning, he was backing his Toyota onto Pier 13 when a bait basket rolled onto his accelerator. Petterson was unable to dislodge the basket and the car sped backwards into the lake, said Pratt County Sheriff’s Deputy Ryan Laney.
The Toyota floated for a short time and Petterson couldn’t get the door open but he was able to escape the vehicle because the driver’s side window was down. He got to shore safely but his vehicle sank to the bottom of the lake.
People fishing at the lake came to check on Petterson and contacted law enforcement. Laney and Kansas Highway Patrol Trooper Micah Polson responded to the scene. Polson gave Petterson a sobriety test but he passed it easily and had no trace of alcohol in his system.
“He blew zeros on the breathalyzer,” Polson said.
While the tracks were clear where the vehicle went into the lake, it was completely submersed and Petterson wasn’t sure exactly where it sank.
A pair of fishermen at the lake, Allen Pulliam of Wichita and Mike Goodnight of Park City were fishing nearby and had a Lowrance Fish Finder on board their boat. They used the Lowrance and trolled the area. They quickly found the vehicle and stayed over the location for a brief time as a marker.
A rollback unit from Doug Reh Chevrolet, driven by Richard Rawson who works in the body shop, arrived on scene. He evaluated the situation and decided the tow cable on his truck would not reach the vehicle so he called a coworker, Addam Deda, general manager and body shop manager, to bring some extra chain to reach the vehicle. Rawson also called his brother, Joe Rawson, to assist as well. Another volunteer, Chris Coss stopped by and offered his assistance.
Rawson was having trouble locating the vehicle so Joe traveled to the other side of the lake to ask Pulliam if he could return and relocate the vehicle. But Pulliam couldn’t get his regular motor started and was unable to get back to the scene.
However, Rawson found the vehicle a few minutes later and did not need the Lowrance. Once he found the vehicle, he had to determine where he could safely attach the chain. The murky water at the Pratt Lake made it impossible for rescue workers to see anything underwater.
Deda repositioned the rollback closer to the edge of the pier but the cable and chain were still not long enough to reach the vehicle. A long, thick nylon rope was attached to the chain. Deda and Joe Rawson used a very strong fishing line to attach to the nylon rope and swam it out to the vehicle and to Richard Rawson, who used it to pull the nylon rope to the vehicle.
Working together as they stood on top of the vehicle, Rawson attached the rope to hooks he had placed on the vehicle and Deda swam back to shore and started to pull the vehicle out.
But the chain came unhooked, so they had to reattach the chain and use duct tape to make sure the chain stayed hooked.
Deda operated the controls again and everything stayed hooked together as the Toyota slowly came out of the lake. It took several resets to get the vehicle out of the lake without rolling it over.
When the vehicle was out of the lake, Rawson opened the doors to let the water out and discovered a catfish Petterson had caught earlier was still attached to a line that was now outside the car. Rawson removed the line and released the catfish back into the lake.
Everything Petterson had in the world was in the vehicle and completely soaked. Bill Gallaugher, a local fisherman and frequent visitor at the lake knew Petterson and offered him a place to stay.
Petterson said he used to work in the oil field as a driller but his place of business went bankrupt and he was unable to get another job because of the poor oil industry situation.
Gallaugher said he hopes to help Petterson, who once had a CDL, regain his license and secure a job.