MOUNT MORRIS – A seriously injured Mount Morris Village Police Officer demonstrated his courage after hydroplaning into another vehicle Saturday morning when he cut himself from his destroyed patrol car with a knife and then used his fists and a hammer to break the window of the other car and tend to the victim, who was also seriously injured.
According to Mount Morris Police Chief Ken Mignemi, Officer Jacob Zangerle’s patrol car hydroplaned in the rain while in pursuit of a white Ford Expedition on Main Street, which the officer radared at 60 mph on Main Street, a 30 mph zone. After turning on his lights and siren, the officer’s patrol car hit a patch of water at the bridge at the south Village line and slid into an oncoming black GMC Terrain, then rolled down the embankment into two or three feet of water.
“The impact knocked the wind out of me,” said Officer Zangerle. “It felt like the patrol vehicle was rolling and tumbling while the contents on the inside were being thrown around and hitting me. I came to rest with multiple airbags deployed, and I had my bearings and was trying to figure out the best way to exit the vehicle as quickly as possible to tend to the other driver.”
Strong Memorial Hospital said that the victim, Connie McDowell, 48, was still in their care on Tuesday in satisfactory condition. Officer Zangerle cut away an airbag to escape his vehicle through the passenger side door, which was crushed right up to the driver’s seat by the impact.
“I tried to kick out the driver’s side window but was couldn’t because the airbag was in the way,” said Officer Zangerle. “I then went to the passenger’s side window, which was already broken, and used my duty knife to cut the airbag out to escape as quickly as possible. I felt a lot of blood on my face. I exited the vehicle headfirst and got in about two to three feet of swampy water. I sprinted up the embankment to attempt to make contact with the other driver.”
After reaching the other car, which was also totaled, Officer Zangerle tried to break the driver’s window and tend to the victim as the first police officer on scene.
“I tried to open every door unsuccessfully and started to punch the window to break it,” said Officer Zangerle. “I pulled out my knife and started striking the window with the window punch but the window was held together with a film so it was only putting holes in it. A male bystander brought me a claw hammer and I hit the window about 10 times, and the window would still not break.”
Officer Zangerle was told by an emergency dispatcher to sit down, but he said that he would not until he made contact with the victim.
“A female bystander ran up to me and handed her phone over, and and a dispatcher was on the phone and advised me to sit down,” said Officer Zangerle, “but I told her that I cannot sit until I make contact with the operator of the vehicle which was only being tended to by me at the moment.”
NYS Police had arrived at the scene and asked for a description of the speeding vehicle. Officer Zangerle then broke the driver’s window and made contact.
“I hit the window with the claw of the hammer and pulled the window out and unlocked the door,” said Officer Zangerle. “I then cut the side airbag out with the knife and made contact with the driver. She was conscious and alert and identified herself as Connie. I told Connie to not move at all and to remain as still as possible. I asked her what pain she is having and she said that her chest and left leg were in a lot of pain. I asked her where she was coming from, where she was going, and what day it was.”
Fire and EMS then took over the scene.
“Ambulance members told me that Connie was stable and being transported to Strong,” said Officer Zangerle. “I was taken to Noyes where they found I had a broken rib, bruised liver and a lot of cuts, scrapes and bruises. I was then cleared, and I was able to go home with my family.”
The Mount Morris Police Benevolent Association sent flowers to McDowell at the hospital.