First-Year Saves Man from Submerged Car

Maggie Grove

Most Colgate students spend their winter breaks de-stressing in the wake of the notorious finals week. Some vacation to exotic locales while other relish in spending the month with their families. However, few can say that over their breaks they were involved in saving another man’s life.

Yet Zach Sawin, a first-year offensive lineman for the Colgate Raiders, can say precisely that. In an act of true heroism, the native of Lake Mary, Florida, along with several other friends, assisted 23-year-old Miguel Hernandez as he and his car plunged into Lake Mary.

On the evening of December 15, Sawin and five other friends were “wandering back roads” as a result of a faulty GPS in an attempt to find a friend’s house. They pulled into the parking area of Reflection Lake, a local fixture that Sawin recalls having “driven by countless times.”

It was then that Sawin first noticed a car’s headlights illuminating the lake.   

“There was an old woman standing on the shore yelling ‘there!'” Sawin said. “[The car] was still floating on top [of the surface of the lake] … once we saw it we immediately ran in.”

Their quick thinking and lack of hesitation prevented a tragedy that night. Once they reached the car, Hunter Haire, a friend of Sawin, climbed through the window of the 2008 Mazda and unbuckled Hernandez’s seat belt. Sawin then dragged Hernandez out of the car by his shoulders while their remaining four friends investigated the car to ensure there were no other passengers inside.

“It was like [the driver] was in shock,” Sawin told the Orlando Sentinel of their swim to shore.

In the aftermath of the rescues, Sawin and his friends remained at the lake to answer questions from Seminole County Sheriff’s Department.

“There wasn’t much to be said … the police asked what we were doing and how we came across it and let us go when they got our names,” Sawin said.

Since the rescue, Sawin says there has been a great deal of fanfare surrounding the event.

“It’s gotten a little blown-up,” Sawin said with a chuckle. “When I got back [to Colgate] everyone was like, ‘you’re a hero.’ But I don’t let it get to my head. Being a ‘hero,’ that’s for others to say. We were just doing what we had to.”

As for the man whose life they saved, Sawin has heard very little, except for a statement of gratitude from Miguel Hernandez’s brother, Manny Hernandez, 24, posted in the Orlando Sentinel.

“I just hope these guys know how grateful I am, and my whole family is, that they were willing to get out of their car and put their lives on the line to help my brother out,” Manny Hernandez said to the Sentinel.

“My brother feels like God personally reached out and saved his life. It’s given him a whole new perspective on things … They are exemplary young men in our society,” Hernandez said.