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Causeway death
Man dies in frigid water after wreck

By Chris Paschenko
DAILY Staff Writer 340-2442

Decatur police are investigating the need for guardrails along a busy section of U.S. 31 North after a man died Wednesday when his car left the road and entered the water.

A Decatur man died Wednesday after his car submerged in a canal. A tow truck later pulled the car from the frigid water.
DAILY Photo by John Godbey
A Decatur man died Wednesday after his car submerged in a canal. A tow truck later pulled the car from the frigid water.
A Morgan County Rescue Squad diver found Leondrey Mondez Freeman, 31, of Decatur in a 5- to 6-foot deep canal near his submerged car about two hours after the wreck.

Rescue Squad Chief Tony Weikert said the driver's window was intact and rolled half way down.

Guardrails protect cars from entering the water along the U.S. 31 causeway from the Tennessee River Bridge to a wooded area of Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge in Limestone County.

But a canal and flood basin adjacent to U.S. 31 at Alabama 20 often swell with floodwater, pooling within feet of Decatur's most heavily traveled thoroughfare.

A recent Department of Transportation study concluded 43,110 vehicles pass through the intersection daily.

Witness saw wreck

At 5:45 a.m., David Proctor of Moulton told police he was on his way to work and saw the car spinning before it entered the water. He then dialed 911.

With the water surface temperature measuring 46 degrees, Decatur officer Lela Tolbert said officer Jeff Clem swam to the car to attempt a rescue. The car was mostly submerged, with only its trunk protruding.

Clem opened the rear door, but found no one inside.

"It appears as if the car traveled east, lost control and went down the embankment," Tolbert said, as Decatur firefighters in wet suits checked the car for survivors.

"It may have gotten airborne over the gravel drive, and it looks like it lost its bumper and drifted into the water."

Rain, a 9-mph wind and a 43-degree air temperature chilled emergency responders through-out the rescue attempt.

Car unoccupied

Firefighters searched the car and found no one inside. Then a Morgan County Rescue Squad search team arrived.

Weikert said dive captain Daryl Fox searched the submerged area by hand. Fox found Freeman at 7:50.

"Our dive captain went in and found one person just outside the driver's side of the vehicle," Weikert said. "I assume it was the driver. He had no identification on him."

Weikert said it is possible Freeman exited the car.

Hypothermia threat

"He may have crawled out of the window or through the door," Weikert said. "With the water as cold as it was, hypothermia sets in within minutes. A body not protected by a wet suit could possibly drown very fast."

Divers attached a cable to the car and remained on the scene as a tow truck pulled the vehicle from the water. Its passenger compartment roof was damaged and caved inward on one side.

Police moved the car from the scene across the highway to a DOT office building and cleared the scene shortly after 9. Decatur drivers commuting to Athens, Interstate 565 and Interstate 65 experienced a 45-minute delay.

Lt. Dennis Hughes, a police spokesman, said Freeman was on his way to work at the Target distribution center in Madison.

Emergency flashers

Police found Freeman's emergency flashers activated, but aren't speculating if he was experiencing an emergency at the time of the wreck.

"It is unknown at this time what caused Freeman's vehicle to leave the roadway," Hughes said. "His body was released to Limestone County Coroner Mike West for further investigation to determine the cause of death."

Hughes asked anyone who may have seen Freeman's silver, 1990 BMW 525i in the area to call Sgt. Kevin Hunter at 341-4631 or 341-4660.

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