Snipers laid on the bank of a small Miami pond on Friday to cover rescue divers as they searched the alligator-infested waters for an elderly mother and her son.
Mario Laza, 56, and his mother, Nieves Matos, 80, were thrown into the small roadside pond as their car skidded off the road and landed in the water. On Friday, they traveled along the Floridian turnpike in a blue Toyota and had lost control of the vehicle as they attempted to exit onto westbound Southwest Eighth Street, reports WSVN.
The car overturned before ending up in a retention pond.
“The vehicle lost control, overturned driving off of the roadway into the pond,” explained Florida Highway Patrol Lt. Alex Camacho.
Witnesses to the crash attempted to enter the water to help pull the passengers from the immersed vehicle but were forced to retreat when they saw the water was teaming with alligators.
An expert rescue diving team soon arrived on the scene to rescue Laza and Matos, who were still inside the vehicle when they arrived. The brave divers entered the water as alligators could clearly be seen swimming nearby.
Cops provided cover with sniper rifles on a small hill overlooking the pond to give the divers some protection as they fought to save the passengers. A number of other cops and paramedics can be seen patrolling the bank, anxiously looking on.
The diving crew eventually managed to pull the mother and son from the minivan and pull them to the safety of the bank. Responders began to administer CPR on the elderly woman, and both victims were transported to HCA Florida Kendall Hospital.
“Dive teams from fire rescue and Miami-Dade Police did their search and rescue, and were able to rescue an adult female and adult male inside of the vehicle at the time,” said Camacho.
Unfortunately, Laza, who was a gas station employee, did not survive.
“I miss his smile, everything, how he talked, everything,” co-worker Yusle Disperez told WSVN.
“To me, we lost the light of this gas station.”
He shared a video on the Miami Spring’s gas station’s Facebook page, which showed Laza smiling and dancing.
“We are in shock right now for this situation, but I hope he rests in peace.” Said Lazo’s friend, Carlos Borras.
His mother is still in hospital and is said to be in critical condition.
Their family and friends have set up a GoFundMe page to raise money for Laza’s funeral costs and Matos’ medical bills. As of Tuesday morning, the page says Lazo “was a person you would never forget just by meeting him once” has raised $5385.
“[Laza was] full of life, laughter and good times to share, with a giant heart and a unique personality.”
Written in Spanish, the page also notes that the mother and son had been “underwater for almost ten minutes” and the police had “many difficulties getting them out on time.”
“[The family] appreciates every grain of sand to support us in this difficult time.”