A woman who hopes to train service dogs and therapy dogs was 10 minutes away from her friend's house in Hampshire when she lost control of her car, flipped it and careened into a pond near a tollway ramp.

The story of Joanna Girmschied, 26, of Wildwood could have ended there.

Girmschied lost control of her 2010 Hyundai about 3:18 p.m. Aug. 3 as she exited westbound I-90 to go south on Route 47, Illinois State Police District 15 Cmdr. Robert Meeder said Wednesday during a news conference.

Minutes after Girmschied's car sank partially in about 3 or 4 feet of water, 11 people had stopped to help however they could.

"These citizens standing here today acted heroically by working together with one goal: the goal of preserving life," Meeder said.

All 11 rescuers received state police commendations Wednesday for what Illinois State Police Director Leo Schmitz described as "quick thinking, bravery and lifesaving measures."

Praised for stepping in were Derek Fivelson, Molly Fivelson, Jesus Flores, Frankie Gonzalez, Patrick Gougan, Ismael Gutierrez, Donald Hataway, Nathan Jennings, Nicholas Mason, Evelyn Pagan and Matthew Worden. Gonzalez and Gougan were at the ceremony Wednesday, but the rest accepted commendations with pride.

"You have to have something special inside of you to stop and do what needs to be done," Illinois Tollway Chairman Robert Schillerstrom told those the agency recognized.

"Speaking from the heart," Girmschied greeted those who became an impromptu first-responder team to pull her from her vehicle, bring her to shore, call 911, start CPR and get her breathing again before paramedics arrived.

Although authorities said Girmschied was unconscious when rescuers got to her, she said she was awake, alert and in a panic for much of the time she spent trapped in her car.

"That was the most terrifying thing I've ever been through," she said. "And I fought like hell, which is why I have a broken hand, to get out of that car. And my body just couldn't hold on any longer, and when it couldn't, they were there. They were there and they saved my life."

About five of the rescuers, including Derek Fivelson of Gilberts, a baseball coach at Conant High School in Hoffman Estates; Jennings, of Machesney Park, an energy broker in Itasca and corporal in the Illinois Army National Guard; Gutierrez, of Guanajuato, Mexico, who is visiting relatives in the suburbs; Worden; and Mason got into the water to help free Girmschied and search for others.

Once the in-water rescuers freed Girmschied and brought her to shore, Molly Fivelson, a graphic designer who is CPR-certified, took the first shift doing chest compressions. Gutierrez, who said through an Illinois Tollway worker functioning as an interpreter that he is CPR-certified in Mexico, was among those who assisted.

Girmschied said she's out of work now -- it's hard to complete her usual jobs as a dog-sitter and dog-walker with a broken hand -- but said her family and her boyfriend have been major supports.

She said watching the tollway traffic camera surveillance video state police released of the rescue has been emotional and surreal, as was meeting and thanking her saviors.

"Every one of them," she said, "was there that day to make sure that I did not drown in this car."


Illinois State Police and Illinois Tollway officials recognize the rescuers of Joanna Girmschied, center, who was pulled from her vehicle after she flipped it into a retention pond at the I-90 and Route 47 interchange in Huntley.

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