Lantana water rescue car

Phil Aeschleman, owner of the True Value hardware store at the Lantana Square shopping center, had just gotten there around 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, August 4, 2020, when heavy rainfall from Tropical Storm Isaias started to flood part of the parking lot.

Aeschleman said he and a 17-year old employee, who asked to remain anonymous, started over to where a car was floating in the floodwaters with the driver still inside.

The employee then ran back to the store and grabbed a hammer and a crowbar, and entered the floodwaters where several people were already riding the back of the bobbing car trying to break a window.

"He went out there with the hammer and just went under," said Aeschleman, "and everything happened so fast."

Fearing for his employee, Aeschleman also went into the rushing water searching for him.

"You didn't realize that it's eight feet, six feet down, or whatever it is to that creek level," said Aeschleman.

And before he knew it he too had been swept up by the current.

"It really wasn't fear. It was more like 'oh crap, really?'"

"It's probably 15 ft. from where I go under the car and get sucked into the pipe," said Aeschleman. "Then all of a sudden I'm in this pipe, and it's dark but then my head pops up and there's air. The pipe's not completely filled up.

"With my head bumping along the pipe as we rode the current," said Aschleman, "and then I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. 'So okay this is gonna be alright.'"

But then came the realization he would be shot out the other end of the pipe which runs under the store complex and emerges behind the shopping center about 200 ft. from where he entered the culvert.

"And about halfway through I'm like 'oh but wait, once I get down to that stream that's running so fast...'"

But then Aeschleman spotted his employee outside the pipe and hanging onto a tree.

"So I get spilled out, and I'm going by, and [he] reaches out and grabs my arm and pulls me onto the tree."

Across from them was another man who had been swept in while trying to rescue the car's driver, and Aeschleman believes two other people were also caught up in the pipe's floodwaters.

Arriving members of the Hockessin Fire Company and the New Castle County Swift Water Rescue Team then assisted all of them up from the creek bed.

Meanwhile, in the front parking lot, firefighters retrieved several men who were still on the car trying to assist, and then set about getting the driver out.

Hockessin Fire Company Deputy Chief Randy Broadwater said the driver's feet had just cleared the window when the car went under, jammed into the storm drain, and caused even further flooding.

Theresa Craparotta is one of the victim's 10 children, and she said her family is extremely grateful to everyone.

"I am incredibly thankful to the Hockessin Fire Company, and the people that tried to help him that got sucked through the storm drain," said Craparotta. "I am so thankful that they are alive and well.

"And all the other people that were working at my dad's car and trying to get him out my entire family is truly, truly thankful for what you all did to save him."

Craparotta said her father had missed his turn and was turning around in the parking lot when high water lifted the car and started carrying it towards the culvert.

"He just kept praying that he would be able to be rescued, and his prayers were answered."

"Just to know that so many people were willing to risk themselves and jump in just to try to get him out before rescuers got here is just amazing. It's awesome!"

Craparotta's father was shaken up but was treated and released from the hospital.

Aeschleman and his employee both suffered bumps and scrapes.

An employee of Two Stones Pub, who has not been identified, reportedly suffered a dislocated shoulder in the rescue attempt.

It was nine years ago that two men were swept through the same storm drain during Hurricane Irene and drowned.

TrafficWatch & News Reporter for WDEL/WSTW 1989 - 1993 and back again for Round Two starting in February, 2015 after spending a decade in Chicago and another six years in Boston.