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Drowning motorist’s final words in 911 call: ‘Hurry up, I’m sinking’

Updated: August 31, 2013 6:34AM

After 89-year-old Henry Laseke mistakenly plunged his Cadillac SUV into a pond behind his home, the Arlington Heights man dialed 911 to plead for help.

“I’m in the lake and I’m sinking,” Laseke said early in the chilling emergency call he made Thursday morning to report he had driven into the water.

The 911 dispatcher he reached told the retired business owner to calm down.

She didn’t tell him to open a window or ask if he could get out of the vehicle even as Laseke repeatedly told her the SUV was “sinking,” a recording of the call shows.

Laseke’s call came in as five other witnesses dialed 911 — reaching other dispatchers — to report the crash.

In his last words, 2 minutes and 9 seconds into the emergency call, Laseke urgently warned there was water flooding into his SUV.

“Hurry up, I’m sinking. The water is coming up,” Laseke said, his words trailing off.

Despite the efforts of two neighbors who swam out to rescue him, Laseke was still inside when the vehicle sank.

Firefighters tried to break windows on the submerged SUV to save Laseke but ultimately had to winch it out of the water to rescue him. He was pronounced dead a short time later.

The 911 call Laseke made was released Monday by the Northwest Central Dispatch System in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from the Sun-Times and other media outlets.

Also Monday, the agency announced an inquiry was under way to determine if the call was handled properly, but officials declined to discuss details of the review.

“It would not be appropriate at this stage to make a judgment call about whether the call was handled properly until our inquiry is complete,” agency officials said in a written statement. “Every call is different, and every set of circumstances is different.”

The veteran dispatcher who answered Laseke’s 911 call remains on duty, said Executive Director Cindy Barbera-Brelle, declining to identify her.

Though Barbera-Brelle wouldn’t discuss specifics of the call, she acknowledged the review ultimately could trigger disciplinary action against the dispatcher if officials determined she mishandled the call.

During the 2-minute, 53-second call Laseke made at 6:59 a.m., he first stumbles over his words, then tells the dispatcher “I drove into the lake.”

After she asks him for his address, Laseke responds with the street name and number, then goes further.

“But I drove through it and I’m in the lake. And hurry up, I’m sinking. Hurry up,” Laseke said.

“Sir, sir I need you to calm down,” the dispatcher replied.

At times, Laseke and the dispatcher both talk at once, making parts of their conversation difficult to hear on the recording. At one point, Laseke may have talked to the would-be rescuers outside his SUV, blurting out “it’s open,” even though the dispatcher hadn’t asked him a question.

Later, after Laseke again tells her he was “sinking,” the dispatcher tries to soothe him.

“Sir, sir, calm down. I’m getting you out,” the dispatcher said.

At one point, the dispatcher asks him what kind of car he’s in and Laseke promptly answers.

“I’m in a brand new Cadillac,” he said.

The dispatcher later tells him “the fire department is on the way to help you ... do you understand that?”

After a long pause, Laseke said quietly, “It’s sinking.”

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