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Former Performance Bicycle manager comes to rescue of woman in sinking car

Published April 23, 2019

PHILADELPHIA — (BRAIN) Joe Wentzell didn’t know it at the time, but his ambition to participate in triathlons would play a role in helping save a woman’s life.

Wentzell, the former district manager of Performance Bicycle, was one of three people who rescued a driver after her SUV ended up in the Schuylkill River here on Sunday.

Wentzell, also the former owner of Breakaway Bikes in Philadelphia, was the first to jump into the river, which had a stronger than normal current from recent heavy rain. He was driving home from an Easter brunch with his son when he saw the vehicle in the water, noticed the commotion and stopped.

“I wasn’t expecting to go into the water,” he told BRAIN. “I thought the person was out. Then I heard a woman on her cell giving instructions (to rescue personnel). People were filming with their cellphones, waiting for the professionals. It probably was going to be 15-20 minutes before help arrived. Meanwhile, the car was floating farther away.”

That’s when Wentzell, who won the 2011 UCI Track Masters World Championship, acted. It was a response several years in the making and happening in a familiar location.

Following his world championship, Wentzell began triathlon training, and like a lot of strong cyclists, his swimming needed work. So he spent time training in that same river along Fairmount Park.

“I felt comfortable going in,’’ he said. “Even though there was a Code 1 bacteria warning that day because of all the recent rain. Triathlon training helped, but still, a lot can go wrong.”

Starting with actually extracting the woman, who has not been identified. Wentzell tried opening the doors, including the liftgate. Then he attempted breaking them. Another man jumped in to help, but it wasn’t until a third man with a tire iron approached that the rescue could occur, Wentzell said.

“We were running out of time,” Wentzell said

He helped the man with the tire iron onto the top of the vehicle, where he was able to break the liftgate glass and get the woman out. The SUV went under moments later, Wentzell said.

“Winning a sporting event is a self-serving mission,” he said. “(Training) taught me a lot. It tears me up to consider the other outcome (Sunday). It’s very meaningful to play any role.”

According to WPVI-TV (ABC) Channel 6 in Philadelphia, police have not said if the incident was accidental or intentional. According to the station, witnesses said the driver intentionally drove into the water at the other end of the parking lot.

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