The driver of a medical transport van waits to find out if she will be cited for ignoring a barricade and driving into a flooded Scottsdale intersection, where she and her patient had to be rescued. Until then, she might take some solace in knowing that she has plenty of company.
Ma Carmen Fonseca was taking a man in a wheelchair to a medical appointment when she tried to drive through the water that had collected in a drainage basin for Indian Bend Wash near 77th and Roosevelt Streets and became stranded.
About 30 rescuers from Scottsdale, Tempe and Phoenix had to skillfully engineer a firetruck ladder to the passenger side of the van to pluck Fonseca and her patient from the van and take them to safety.
Driving through flooded intersections and streets was common Thursday after thunderstorms dumped as much as two inches of rain in the Valley. News helicopter cameras captured dozens of people driving through the rain-swollen roadways, despite Arizona's "stupid motorist" law intended to deter such behavior.
The law states, in part:
"A driver of a vehicle who drives the vehicle on a public street or highway that is temporarily covered by a rise in water level, including groundwater or overflow of water, and that is barricaded because of flooding is liable for the expenses of any emergency response that is required to remove from the public street or highway the driver or any passenger in the vehicle that becomes inoperable on the public street or highway or the vehicle that becomes inoperable on the public street or highway, or both."
Most of the drivers that roll through flooded streets have lived in the Valley for years and should know better.
Fonseca initially told police she didn't see barricades warning to avoid the intersection, but later said she saw another motorist pass through the water.
Capt. Dave Folio of the Scottsdale Fire Department said the law was put in place in 1995, but motorists continue the risky driving behavior "for whatever reason."
He called Thursday's effort a high-risk, low-frequency rescue that occurred in a high-risk area. The water was not only dangerously swift, but a drain and strainer were close by that catches debris that accumulates in the area.
He said they had diver ready go into the water if necessary, but that wouldn't have been a first option.
The decided instead on using a ladder truck, which in itself posed problems.
The ladders doesn't move smoothly and it had been extended about as far as it could go, Folio said. But the experience of the man running the ladder enabled them to pull both victims to safety.
"It's like the drowning prevention thing - we keep putting that word out there, still put word out, but we still have people making bad decisions and not taking that three extra minutes that it takes to go that half-mile north or that half-mile south," Folio said.
"The stupid motorist law was named for what it is," he said.
Folio said motorists can be cited up to $2,000 for actual costs of the rescue, but in some circumstances can be charged as much as $50,000 for a total rescue.
"And I don't like putting a price on all the rescuers," who are at risk during such operations, he said.
He said he not aware of anyone being fined the maximum, though he said he has pulled reports and could see where departments have charged more.
Copyright 2012 CBS 5(Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.
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