Conservation officers rescue driver from sinking vehicle in Detroit River

Contact: Lt. Todd Szyska, 313-396-6890
Agency: Natural Resources

Aug. 5, 2020

Officers used their patrol truck to keep the car from fully submerging

Mercedes Detroit RiverMichigan Department of Natural Resources conservation officers acted fast to rescue a driver who intentionally drove his Mercedes Benz into the Detroit River Tuesday afternoon.

“This portion of the Detroit River is some of the swiftest water in the region,” said Lt. Todd Szyska, DNR law enforcement supervisor in southeast Michigan. “The car launched so far off the island into the strong current, the officers had just enough time to get the man out of the vehicle before it was pulled further into the river.”

Around 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, Conservation Officer Robert Watson responded to a 911 call regarding a vehicle that drove off Sunset Point, on the south end of Belle Isle, and into the Detroit River.

Watson and Detroit EMS medic Jason Cornell were the first emergency responders to arrive at the scene and immediately jumped into waist-deep water to reach the driver.

Conscious and alert, the driver was making no attempt to escape the vehicle and yelling that he did not want to be saved. Watson used a window punch tool to break both right passenger windows in an attempt to remove the man from the sinking vehicle.

Conservation Officer Dan Walzak arrived next and immediately jumped in the water to help. Walzak, Watson and Cornell linked arms to form a human chain to prevent the strong current from pulling the vehicle deeper into the river.

“When I arrived, Watson, Walzak and Cornell were waist-deep in the water,” said Conservation Officer David Schaumburger. “Watson yelled to me that the car was floating away fast.”

Schaumburger retrieved a tow rope from the nearest DNR patrol truck and threw it to Watson. Watson tied the rope through the two passenger windows and threw the rope back to Schaumburger on shore, who secured it to the patrol truck.

Watson and Cornell then removed the resisting man from the vehicle, who was insisting again that he did not want to be saved. After a brief struggle, Watson secured the man using a water rescue hold that he learned during the Michigan Conservation Officer Academy water training and swam him to shore, where onlookers helped pull the man out of the water.

Schaumburger rode in the ambulance to assist paramedics with the man, who was admitted to the hospital.

“Schaumburger, Watson and Walzak were prepared to act quickly and assist the driver,” said Chief Gary Hagler, DNR Law Enforcement Division. “Conservation officers work from their vehicles and are equipped to respond to unique situations in difficult to reach areas.”

“This is a challenging time,” Hagler said. “Help is available. If you or someone you know need someone to talk to, please don’t hesitate to utilize the available resources in a format you feel comfortable with.”

If you or someone you know needs mental health help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at: 800-273-TALK (8255).

Watson patrols St. Clair County and was assigned to patrol Belle Isle Tuesday; he and Schaumburger, who patrols Wayne County, have been with the DNR Law Enforcement Division since January 2014. Walzak has been with the division for more than 40 years and also patrols Wayne County.

Michigan conservation officers are fully commissioned state peace officers who provide natural resources protection, ensure recreational safety and protect citizens by providing general law enforcement duties and lifesaving operations in the communities they serve. Learn more at