Brad Bennett was working on his boat, tied up along the Oswego River between Fulton’s upper and lower locks, when he saw a car come down the access road.Â The car was moving fast.
“There’s not a lot of traffic down here this time of day,” Bennett said.
He saw the driver, who was talking on his cell phone.Â The man “drove straight into the water,” Bennett said.
Later, Fulton Police Chief Orlo Green said that Michael A. Howell, 21, of Oswego, likely did so on purpose. “It appears it was an intentional act. It wasn’t an accident,” Green said.
But Bennett couldn’t have known that then.Â All he knew was that he was the only person around as a man and his car began to sink in the river.
“I ran up and called 911 and grabbed some rope.Â The car went down till the water was level with the driver’s door and that’s when he decided to get out,” Bennett said. “He was on his phone most of the time talking to somebody when he was getting out of the car. Then I tried to throw him a rope 4 or 5 times but he wouldn’t swim for the rope.Â The fifth time he started to swim a little bit and that’s when the fire department came.”
Firefighters got a lifejacket on Bennett and pulled him to the edge of the river.
“He wouldn’t let go of the phone to grab the rope even after they got him to the wall.Â They finally told him he had to drop the phone,” Bennett said.
Howell was taken to Oswego Hospital as a precaution, Green said.Â He believed Howell would also receive a mental health examination.Â Green said criminal charges against Howell are unlikely.
Sheriff’s Department divers found the car and helped hook a tow line to it.Â A towing company truck pulled the car from the water and towed it away.Â It suffered extensive damage — a damaged front end, caved-in roof and cracked windshield, along with water damage.
The isolated riverwalk area has been used for what was believed to have been a suicide attempt at least one other time in the last decade.Â In that case, a woman drove into the river near the marina, where the access road makes a sharp right bend.Â The city installed metal post barriers there to deter future attempts and to prevent accidents.
Any kind of barrier devices along that stretch of the river would be up to the state Canal Corporation, said Green, who noted that barriers might prevent future suicide attempts at the river, but “this is just one avenue to fulfill that type of a thing.”