June 26, 2019

Quick Action by Local Resident Rescues a Man From Drowning

HEROIC RESCUE: Darren Geist dove into the D&R Canal to save a man who had misjudged the sharp turn on Quakerbridge Road and landed, in his car, under the bridge. The car was submerged and Geist, who lives next to the canal, got him out just in time. The smashed guardrail is behind him. (Photo by Lauren Geist)

By Anne Levin

It was a little before midnight on Wednesday, June 19, and Darren and Lauren Geist had just gone to bed. Suddenly, they heard the loud, unmistakeable sound of screeching tires followed by a crash outside the home they share with their two small children on Quakerbridge Road, next to a sharp curve by the D&R Canal.

Alarmed, they got up, threw on clothes, and went downstairs to look out the window. It seemed that everything was okay — at first.

“I was worried that if a car was in the water, we wouldn’t be able to see it. So Darren went out to look,” said Lauren Geist, who stood at the door. “As he was going out, we could hear a voice — the small sound of a human voice in distress.”

Darren Geist, a 37-year-old attorney for Colgate-Palmolive, sprang into action. He couldn’t see the car, which had crashed into a guardrail and landed in the canal under 10 feet of water. But he could hear the frantic cries of the man trapped inside. He ran to the side of the canal and spotted the car’s lights in the water. Without thinking, he jumped in.

What happened next saved the man’s life and has made Darren a hero — not only in the eyes of his wife and the man whose life he saved. The Lawrence Township Police Department, who were among those responding to Lauren’s 911 call, has nominated Darren for its annual Citizen Lifesaving Award.

“What he did was very heroic,” said Lieutenant Joseph Lech. “Without Mr. Geist, it would probably been a fatality because the vehicle sank right to the bottom. And with the heavy rains we’ve had, the water level was higher than usual.”

According to Lech, Marko Oydanich of Newark, the the 27-year-old driver of the 2016 Subaru, was coming from Princeton when he misjudged the curve over the bridge. The vehicle shot into the water and flipped over, trapping him inside. By the time Geist dove in, the front of the car was filled with water and Oydanich had moved to the back seat, gulping what little air was left. He was pounding on the doors and screaming for help.

Once he had realized that the man was stuck in the car, Geist had tried to open the back door. “But it wouldn’t open because there was still air in there,” said his wife. “He couldn’t see the man because it was pitch black.” Somehow, Geist signaled to Oydanich to come to the passenger side. He opened the door, shouted to Oydanich that the door was open, managed to feel his arm, and pulled him out.

“That’s when I saw them,” said Lauren Geist. “Incredibly, neither of them was hurt. They were swimming to the side of the canal. Marko just kept throwing his arms around my husband and thanking him.”

The Lawrence Township Police, Lawrenceville Fire Company, and Trenton Heavy Rescue Fire Company soon arrived at the scene.

While this is the first time they have actually seen a car go into the water, the Geists are all too familiar with the sounds of screeching tires outside their home. “There are actually a good number of accidents in that area,” said Lauren. “There is very little light or signage, and nothing really marking that turn. They fix the guardrail, and a couple months later it’s smashed in again. Cars come flying around that corner all the time.”

In a Facebook post about the incident, she wrote, “It is a strange intersection of West Windsor, Lawrence, and Princeton townships, plus the bridge is managed by the state, and Quakerbridge Road is managed by the county. That makes it extremely difficult to get anyone to take action regarding increasing safety measures. It is also a pedestrian/canal crossing, but there is no crosswalk or lights, unlike in Princeton proper. I’d love to draw attention to this before someone dies.”

On Sunday, Oydanich stopped by the Geists’ home to thank Darren once again. “It was very emotional and overwhelming,” said Lauren. As for her husband, “He’s my hero,” she said. “I’m in awe of the man I married.”