2 Officers Injured In Rescue Attempt
By LIBBY CUDMORE • The Freeman’s Journal & Hometown Oneonta
COOPERSTOWN – It’s rare, but not unheard of, for a car to end up in a body of water, said Sheriff Richard J. Devlin Jr. after last week’s fatal submersion off the boat ramp into Otsego Lake at the end of Fair Street.
“Before I was sheriff, someone drove into the Susquehanna River,” he said. “They were unfamiliar with the area and drove down what they thought was a road, but was the boat launch.”
Police are still investigating of how John Smirk’s car ended up submerged in Otsego Lake. “For unknown reasons, he drove into the lake,” said Village Patrolman Vincent Cavalieri.
On Thursday April 11, a passerby called Otsego County 911 at 8:31 p.m. after she witnessed a car drive down Fair Street, go off the dock next to the Lakefront Hotel’s lighthouse and into the water.
Village police arrived at 8:34 p.m. and Otsego County deputies arrived at 8:37 p.m. and found the car, a 2015 Subaru, completely submerged in the water.
“We first broke the rear windshield, but were unable to reach him,” said Cavalieri. “We then broke the passenger side windows.”
Cavalieri and sheriff’s Deputy Anthony Grimes were able to remove the man, later identified as Smirk, 75, from his car and get him to shore, where members from the Cooperstown Fire Department Emergency Squad performed CPR.
“Ultimately, it was unsuccessful,” said Cavalieri.
The cause of Smirk’s death was drowning, according to coroner Mike Fox, who pronounced him dead at the scene.
Deputy Grimes was treated at Bassett Hospital for lacerations to his hand from broken glass while trying to retrieve Smirk, as well as mild hypothermia from being in the water. Patrolman Cavalieri and a paramedic from AMT were also transported to Bassett and treated for minor injuries sustained at the scene.
Though still under investigation, as of press time, Cooperstown Police are treating Smirk’s death as an accident.
Smirk and his wife Linda, who passed away in 2016, operated the Cooperstown B&B at 80 Chestnut St. for decades. He served as a Seaman during the Vietnam War aboard the USS Coral Sea and, for a time, worked in Commercial Real Estate Management in Manhattan where he managed buildings including 9 W. 57th St., 1 New York Plaza and Sony Tower at 550 Madison Ave.
Though they are uncommon, Devlin said there are ways to keep safe should you find your car submerged in water.
If the car has manual windows or if the automatic windows work, you can try rolling them down in order to escape.
Once the car fills with water, you should be able to open the door, as the pressure will have equalized.
“If that doesn’t work,” Devlin said. “Break out the side windows.”
Tools such as a seatbelt cutter, which also has a small hammer to break a window, can be kept in an accessible place to help free you from a seatbelt that may be stuck.
The car may not sink immediately, and if possible, use your cell phone to call 911, who will help instruct you.
“It does happen, but it’s not an everyday occurrence,” he said. “But the most important thing, as difficult as it might be, is to stay calm.”