April 20, 2014

Elyria
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Man survives death drop


Chased by police, van launches off bridge into river 75 feet below

ELYRIA — A stolen van driven by a one-legged Lorain man plunged 75 feet into the Black River while being chased by police Wednesday on Interstate 90 in Elyria.

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BRUCE BISHOP / CHRONICLE
A tow crew drags the van driven by Blake Kavanagh off Interstate 90 on Wednesday from the river. Rescue workers said they were amazed that Kavanagh, 45, survived the plunge.

Blake Kavanagh, 45, was found by Elyria rescue crews waving for help from a side passenger window of the van after it crashed onto its side in about 4 feet of water.

Emergency personnel suspect Kavanagh suffered mild hypothermia and a broken leg in the fall. The prosthetic limb on his other leg was intact.

“It’s amazing that he was able to climb out,” Lorain police Sgt. Stan Puza said. “I thought he was dead.”

 Lorain police began chasing Kavanagh about 7:40 a.m. after Riverview Lane homeowner Debbie Quimper reported that he had pushed aside her boyfriend from the already running Ford Econoline van in her driveway and drove off.

Kavanagh knows Quimper’s brother and had been staying at Quimper’s home for the past couple weeks until he could find a more permanent place to stay, she said.

“You could tell he had a mental illness of some kind,” Quimper said. “But he was real polite and helped out around the house. I told him I could take him to get some help, but he didn’t want any.”

David Deba, Quimper’s boyfriend, was nearly run over as he attempted to hang on to the door of the vehicle. Fortunately, a torn glove was all he had to show for it.

“If I was hanging on with the other arm, I probably would’ve been pulled under the tires,” Deba said. “I’m lucky I’m not in the morgue right now.”

Kavanagh was spotted heading southbound on Grove Avenue and drove the speed limit while ignoring trailing police lights and sirens.

As he proceeded east on I-90, Kavanagh suddenly swerved to the right when he approached the bridge over the Black River, Puza said.

The van went airborne and plummeted down the side of the embankment before landing in the water.

Elyria fire crews responded and saw a battered Kavanagh waving for help.

“Here’s this guy covered with water, a prosthetic limb on one side and a broken leg on the other, and he still managed to pull himself out of the van,” Elyria Fire Marshal Bob Dempsey said. “Seeing the van and where it had come from, I think everybody was a little surprised to see him alive.”

Kavanagh was transported by ambulance to EMH Regional Medical Center and later flown by helicopter to MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland, where he was listed in critical condition Wednesday night.

Puza said police intend to charge Kavanagh with theft of a motor vehicle.

Contact Stephen Szucs at 329-7129 or sszucs@chroniclet.com.