By Cleve Bryan
FLORENCE Twp., N. J., (CBS) — The mother accused of intentionally driving a van into the Delaware River with her three children inside could have her first court appearance next week (See Previous Story).
Eyewitness News reporter Cleve Bryan spoke with the man who dove into the water, making four trips to help save the family’s lives.
“We turn and look and said oh my God there’s a car in the river,” Laura Taylor said.
Laura and Darnell Taylor were driving down Front Street when they saw a van bobbing in the Delaware River.
“I said well what are we going to do if there’s people in the van? And he said ‘I’m going to jump in’ and save them and I said ‘you can swim?’” Laura said.
Darnell Taylor, a father of four, wasn’t worried about himself.
“As I got closer I heard the young girl screaming help, help, help and I just dove in,” Darnell said.
Inside the van were 49-year-old Joann Smith and three of her children, ages 13, 14 and 15. Taylor says the daughter was on the phone with her dad trying to figure out how to escape the sinking van. Taylor told her to kick out a window, which she did, and he swam her to shore. He made four trips through the chilly waters despite feeling fatigue from the strong current.
“There were moments where I couldn’t see him and I was concerned,” Laura said.
People are calling Darnell a hero.
“I’m no hero, I’m just a regular guy from Florence. Anybody would have done the same thing,” he said.
“I could feel something was going on, but I didn’t expect that,” Debbie Partyka said.
Partyka owns Debbie’s Snack Shop near the Florence Township municipal boat landing.
That’s where police say Smith intentionally drove a van with three of her teenaged children into the Delaware River on Tuesday night.
Partyka has known the Smiths for more than 15 years and served the kids ice cream just before the incident. She felt like Joann Smith wasn’t acting like herself.
“I don’t know just something, you know, was a little off. But you know maybe she’s having a bad day, people have that,” she said.
Authorities are charging Smith with three counts of attempted murder. She was checked into a medical facility for evaluation.
The Taylors know the Smiths through youth sports and say they’re praying for the family.
“We’re a small town. Regardless of if they are not blood relatives or anything like that we’re all Florence. The Smith family is a part of the Taylor family,” Darnell said.
“You feel a connection with them. the screams, someone screaming for their life the way the daughter was, I don’t think I’ll ever get that sound out of my head,” Laura said.
The Taylors say the water was extremely high and that the current was very strong at the time of the rescue on Tuesday night.
Smith could have her first court appearance on Monday.