First Responders

How a Florida Cop Saved a Woman From Drowning and Made a Drug Bust, All at Once

August 8, 2021Joshua Skovlund
Florida drowning Officer Peter Dolci

From chasing down a man with a warrant to pulling a drowning woman out of a vehicle and resuscitating her, Melbourne police are ready to fulfill their duties and go above and beyond. Screenshots from Melbourne Police Department body-camera footage. Composite image by Joshua Skovlund/Coffee or Die Magazine.

Some split-second thinking by a Florida cop led to the rescue of a drowning woman whose car had plunged into a river and, without missing a beat, the arrest of a drug suspect, all in a manner of minutes.

On July 20, Melbourne Police Officer Peter Dolci spotted a man he’d been searching for as part of a drug investigation walking near a bridge over the Indian River. But as he pulled his car up to the man, a frantic woman ran up to his police car, yelling that a car had driven off the bridge into the river, just a few hundred feet away.

He knew he needed to run to the car but didn’t want to let the man out of his sight. Which is when an ingenious idea hit him: “I was like ‘Hey, come help me!'” Dolci said. The man immediately jumped in Dolci’s car. “So I have him with me, we’re running over across the street.”

Once off the bridge, Dolci spotted the car in the water and saw a man struggling inside to free someone trapped inside.

“I knew [the suspect] had a warrant, so I threw him in cuffs and told him to sit down, and then I tended to the car,” Dolci said. “I was trying to kill two birds with one stone.”

Officer Peter Dolci, Melbourne Florida drowning woman
Peter Dolci III served in the US Marine Corps for five years before becoming a police officer. In between the two careers, Dolci worked for SpaceX and helped develop the first rocket that launched. Photos courtesy of Peter Dolci. Composite image by Joshua Skovlund/Coffee or Die Magazine.

Inside the car, a frenzied man was wedged through the broken windshield. A five-year Marine Corps veteran, Dolci jumped in the dark water to find the man was holding a woman’s head above water to keep her from drowning. The shattered windshield was digging into the man’s back. 

The man yelled, “Can you break this glass off? I don’t care if it cuts me. She’s going to die. Break the glass!”

While putting his gloves on, Dolci encouraged the man to stay calm. Then he grabbed hold of the windshield and tore it away. 

Meanwhile, seven-year MPD veteran officer Luke Dummer was arriving, with a new trainee. Dummer said he jumped out of his car just as Dolci ripped the windshield off the vehicle in the river. A trail of debris showed the path it had taken as it smashed through multiple trees and rocks next to the waterway. Dummer ran down to Dolci, instructing his trainee to grab the automated external defibrillator.

Inside the car, the man wrenched the woman from the driver’s seat. Dummer and Dolci carried the woman up the embankment. In addition to the woman’s having been submerged for an unknown amount of time, Dolci and Dummer worried about a head injury.

Dolci began chest compressions on the woman, who coughed up some water but didn’t regain consciousness. Years before this call, Dolci had responded to a different drowning incident in which a young girl didn’t survive. He was determined not to let that happen again.

Within minutes, a K9 officer arrived and told the two cops to turn the woman on her side for compressions, a technique MPD teaches officers. 

The side compressions worked. The woman spewed out river water. Dummer took over compressions and said he could hear what sounded like gasping noises, which seemed promising.

“She was at least making some sort of noise or movement,” Dummer said. “She wasn’t awake but at least her gasping, trying to get [the river water] out of her was a sign that what we’re doing was working, or hopefully helping.”

Luke Dummer has been with the Melbourne Police Department for seven years, earning his way into being a field training officer. Dummer is responsible for training new MPD officers and signing off on whether they pass initial training or not. Photo courtesy of Luke Dummer. Composite image by Joshua Skovlund/Coffee or Die Magazine.

With Dummer continuing CPR, Dolci wanted to check the wrecked vehicle and surrounding waters because he remembered seeing children’s toys floating in the vehicle. He and the K9 handler quickly searched the outside of the vehicle and the water surrounding it but found nothing.

But that still left the inside. The two officers pushed the car back onto its tires for a better look inside. Fortunately, there was no one to be found. 

Then he turned his attention back to the suspect, who had been sitting on a nearby lawn in handcuffs. Dolci walked the man to his truck and found drugs in the vehicle. With evidence in hand, he arrested the man.

After their shift, Dolci and Dummer heard that the woman was in stable condition at the hospital. Both breathed a sigh of relief. As first responders, they don’t always hear whether the people they attempt to save actually make it. 

“I mean, a lot of times we don’t ever hear what happened, you know, we’ll do CPR, do some type of lifesaving thing, and then they go off to the hospital and get admitted,” Dummer said. “We never hear back whether they did well or not. So, it’s nice to hear that she’s at least stable.”

Read Next: How a Virginia Law Enforcement Officer Earned the Nickname ‘Deputy Hulk’

Joshua Skovlund
Joshua Skovlund

Joshua Skovlund is a former staff writer for Coffee or Die. He has covered the 75th anniversary of D-Day in France, multinational military exercises in Germany, and civil unrest during the 2020 riots in Minneapolis. Born and raised in small-town South Dakota, he grew up playing football and soccer before serving as a forward observer in the US Army. After leaving the service, he worked as a personal trainer while earning his paramedic license. After five years as in paramedicine, he transitioned to a career in multimedia journalism. Joshua is married with two children. His creative outlets include Skovlund Photography and Concentrated Emotion.

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