SPANISH FORK -- First responders are saying it’s a miracle Lily Groesbeck was alive after her overnight ordeal upside down in frigid temperatures.
The rescue, a developing story that first broke Saturday, has profoundly affected the police officers and firefighters involved.
“Makes you want to go home and hug your kids,” said Officer Jared Warner, Spanish Fork Police Department.
When firefighters and police officers arrived at the scene, near the junction of Main Street and Arrowhead Trail Road, they began wondering how to roll the car over from its upside-down position where it rested partially submerged in the slow moving water.
“It’s a miracle for a baby, for anyone, to be in that frigid air for as long as she did and survive,” said Paul Tomadakis, Spanish Fork Fire Department. He said the temperatures were approximately 42 degrees Friday night and Saturday morning. Lily was in the car for 14 hours.
The large vehicle was a Dodge four-door passenger car, and at the time they had no idea what or who was in the car. The river water was eight inches deep from the top of the car.
“It was at that time we heard a distinct female voice from the car saying, ‘help me, help us,’ and that is when we said, ‘We’re trying to help you. We’re trying our best to get you out,’” said Officer Tyler Beddoes with the Spanish Fork Police Department.
Four officers turned the car over, not an easy task since the vehicle wasn’t economy size. The firefighters climbed onto the top of the car to pry the door open.
What they found after looking into the vehicle was a woman who looked like she died on impact in the driver seat, and a toddler who was unconscious and not breathing, Beddoes said.
The 18-month-old infant was strapped into her child safety seat.
Tomadakis said he saw Lily’s eyes move, got her out as quick as he could and handed her to his coworker, Lee Mecham.
“After the chaos, after everything was done, we were all talking to each other,” Beddoes said. “And yeah, we heard the same voice. We heard a voice, a distinct voice.”
By his own admission, Beddoes is not very active in his LDS Church ward. But the religious aspect of Saturday's event has crossed his mind. He said it is the first time he has ever had such an experience.
“As far as what we did and what we heard, it’s hard to wrap our minds around it,” Beddoes said. “It was kind of eerie. I don’t know what it was. The mother couldn’t speak.”
He said their sanity has been questioned.
“I know I have wondered, but we all heard it so we are either all crazy or it really happened,” Beddoes said.
Warner was wearing a body camera and has seen the video.
He said you can see them respond to the voice that created the sense of urgency to overturn the car and rescue Lily. The Daily Herald has requested a copy of the body camera video and Lt. Matt Johnson said it will likely take 10 days before the request is answered.
Lily is in stable but critical condition at Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City. She was airlifted to the facility after being transported by ambulance to Mountain View Hospital in Payson.
“So far, she is doing remarkably well,” said Jill Sanderson, the infant’s aunt. “The doctors are hopeful at this point, but the next 48 to 72 hours will be critical.”
Sanderson’s younger sister and Lily’s mother, 25-year-old Lynn Jennifer Groesbeck, died in the crash.
“She was a very compassionate, caring person, always willing to bend over backwards for her loved ones,” Sanderson said. “She had a positive impact on a lot of people’s lives.
"She loved her baby with all of her heart and was thrilled to be a mother.”
Investigators believe the vehicle struck a cement barrier on the south end of the bridge and traveled into the river, Johnson said.
Where the passenger car struck the concrete barrier is visible where the officers sprayed neon orange paint. A modest memorial of flowers, balloons and mementos has been set up at the site.
“It is unknown why the vehicle left the roadway,” Johnson said.
An angler was fishing in the river Saturday when he came upon the crash scene just after noon. Officers received the call at 12:24 p.m.
Three police officers and four firefighters were transported to Mountain View Hospital and treated for hypothermia. They were released after treatment.
“They absolutely saved Lily’s life, and I know some of them were hospitalized,” Sanderson said. “We want to express our appreciation for them.”
Family members reported the mother left a residence in Salem at approximately 10 p.m. Friday and was traveling to her residence in Springville. A resident near the accident scene said he heard something that evening at approximately 10:30.
“He checked the area but did not locate anything out of the ordinary,” Johnson said.
The Utah Highway Patrol is assisting the Spanish Fork Police Department with the investigation.
Friends of the family have set up a fundraiser at gofundme.com to help pay for funeral expenses and the toddler's medical care.