HIGHLANDS COUNTY For Ronnie Hathaway III, it was a normal Wednesday. He was working hard for the family’s excavation business around 3:30 p.m. when heavy rain shut the operation down.
At the same time, Anna Vanbeek, 89, was driving down Miller Road near Henscratch Road when the rain apparently caused her to lose control. Her vehicle went through a fence and into a pond that’s estimated to be at least 6 feet deep.
Through a series of events, the paths of Hathaway and Vanbeek crossed and Hathaway saved Vanbeek from drowning.
Hathaway, who normally would have been still working, and his crew were in a dump truck driving by the area of the pond when “me and two other guys looked over our shoulders and saw a tail light sticking out the pond,” he said.
“I don’t think anyone in a car would have seen it,” he said.
They yelled and asked if anyone was in the vehicle and that’s when they saw someone “stick her hand out and ask for help,” Hathaway said.
Hathaway quickly ran down to the pond, he said. “That’s when I got in and pulled her out of it (the car),” he said.
Vanbeek was unable at the time to get the door open, he said, and her leg was sticking out of the window. He got her to put her leg back into the vehicle and they were able to open the door.
It was in the nick of time.
“When I got to her,” Hathaway said, “you could see the door handle in the mirror. Before I could get her to the bank of the pond, the car had sunk totally.”
Hathaway said he helped her swim to the bank.
“She kept praying, “Lord, don’t let me drown,” he said.
“When me and her got to the shoreline, she didn’t let go and I took a breath,” he said.
In a statement provided through the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office, Vanbeek said, she had thought until Hathaway arrived that she wasn’t going to live.
“I thought I was gone and then I heard this young man calling “Hang on, I’m coming” and he came right away,” she said. “He just got me out in time because right after I got out the car sunk. I thought my time was up. He was so pleasant – he kept coming over and asking me if I was all right after we got out of the water. Everyone there was such nice people. When he left, he told me I should go home and take a nice hot bath and get some sleep and you’ll be all right. It was like he was speaking to someone from his own family.”
Hathaway said he never thought about dangers to himself, such as being struck by lightning in the water, being attacked by an alligator or drowning.
“I was thinking about trying to get to her,” he said, adding that he feels blessed to have saved Vanbeek.
Hathaway said he believes God was responsible for bringing them together at a crucial time.
“I think it all happened for a reason,” he said.