Aurora responders honored for saving Batavia girl
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Steve Prosser was told his 14-year-old daughter died one cold night in March when the car she was riding in plunged through the ice and into the frigid water of an Aurora retention pond.
He was told wrong.
On Tuesday, Prosser, of Batavia, got to thank the police officers and firefighters responsible for saving his daughter, Annie, as they were honored for their actions.
"I stand here among heroes," Prosser said, as seven officers who helped rescue Annie from the submerged car on March 9 were awarded the Medal of Valor. "If it wasn't for these gentlemen, I would be without my daughter today."
But after being trapped under 40-degree water for 25 minutes, coming out of a weeklong coma and a three-week hospital stay, Annie is alive.
She attended Tuesday's ceremony at Aurora police headquarters, smiling broadly as she clutched a bouquet of flowers and gave long hugs to each of the first responders who served as her rescuers.
Officer Christopher Coronado and six police investigators — Gregory Christoffel, Edwin Doepel, Nicholas Gartner, Jeffrey Hahn, W. Joshua Sullivan and Erik Swastek — received the department's highest honor, the Medal of Valor, for their lifesaving actions.
"Every single day, our brave police officers and firefighters help those in times of crisis and, in doing so, often risk their own lives," Mayor Tom Weisner said before the men were presented their medals. "Like all heroes, they do so without question, without hesitation and without looking for any recognition whatsoever."
Speaking on behalf of those honored, Christoffel said they only were doing their duty.
"I would trust these guys with my life," Christoffel said. "I know that none of them next to me think they're a hero. I know that I don't. We just happened to be the first ones there and we just did what anybody else would have done that night."
Fire department personnel including Lt. Kris Tappendorf, paramedic Jason Equi, private/paramedics Dan Kveton, Brett Svendsen and Dan Ahasic and privates Timothy Bergeron, Jerry White and Tom Contreres also were recognized for responding to the crash, which occurred about 7:30 p.m. in a pond near Diehl Road and a ramp to I-88.
Tappendorf, a diver, pulled Annie to the surface. He said he found her after several attempts to locate survivors in water police Chief Greg Thomas described as chest-deep, murky and littered with chunks of 6-inch thick ice shattered by the car.
By the time police and firefighters arrived, two crash victims — Annie's mother, Irene, and one of Annie's friends — already had escaped the four-door sedan. But the car had flipped over with its driver, 20-year-old Emory Diaz-Sepulveda of Aurora, and Annie still inside.
"The entire car was surrounded by ice. You could not open the doors," Tappendorf said. "It really made the scene more difficult."
Coronado was the closest officer to the crash and said he was one of three to arrive about the same time. They didn't know much, he said, but they were prepared to jump into frigid water and help in any way possible.
"While driving there, I tried to take off anything that would weigh me down," Coronado said. "After that, it was just instinct."
They pulled Annie from the wreckage in enough time for her to be revived and recuperate at Provena Mercy Medical Center, but Diaz-Sepulveda died. Thomas asked for a moment of silence in her honor during Tuesday's ceremony.
Annie's recovery continues, and her father said she has not yet returned to eighth grade at Rotolo Middle School in Batavia. But despite the March 9 phone call to the contrary, Annie is alive.
"It's something I think about every morning when I get up, how truly thankful I am to have my daughter," Prosser said. "And I have my daughter because of these gentlemen right here."
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