It was a perfect summer afternoon for a trip to the lake for some fun on the water.
But Jessica Borsum and Jesse Bourgo never made it to Lake Sakakawea in north central North Dakota.
Instead, they found themselves scrambling in the chest-high water of a roadside ditch, working frantically to free three young children trapped inside a sinking SUV.
“We were driving and this man darted out waving his arms frantically on the side of the road,” Borsum said. “We slammed on the brakes and then saw the mom running and screaming, ‘My babies are in there!’”
The woman’s children—an infant, a two-year-old, and a five-year-old—were strapped in their car seats, trapped inside the nearly submerged vehicle that had gone off the road and landed roof-down in a slough.
Borsum said when she spotted the car and realized there were children inside, she panicked—but her husband Jesse sprang into action and the pair ran into the water with several others who had begun stopping to help.
The situation in the water was challenging: the car was already almost filled with water and still sinking. “I was trying to hang on to the car so it wouldn’t go any deeper, but we were sinking, I was sinking,” Borsum said. Rescuers tried to stabilize the car and get their footing in the murky, muddy bottom to gain some leverage and stop the car from sliding any deeper.
Bourgo said the strategy quickly became to get the car turned on its side so there was a chance at getting into it through one of the windows.
He said the ragtag group of strangers worked together as they executed their plan. “It was an amazing group of people; everybody did something and it all just clicked into place,” he said.
The group succeeded in rolling the vehicle onto its side. Bourgo said another motorist punched the driver’s side window out with his fist which gave them access to the children. They were able to free the infant first and Borsum delivered the baby, who was not breathing, to another passerby who began giving CPR.
“I heard the woman say, ‘Give me the baby! I’m a nurse!’” she recalled.
Rescuers were next able to use a pocketknife to cut the seat belt from the five-year-old and bring her to safety.
But the two-year-old was still trapped, and by now, completely underwater.
That’s when Bourgo knew he had to do something drastic.
“I climbed in the car through the window and went underwater,” he said. “I was just reaching around trying to feel for the car seat but I couldn’t see anything.”
As he fumbled around in the dark, he felt the latch and was able to unclip the entire car seat—the child still strapped in—and lift it to the surface, where CPR was administered to the child by the same woman.
Borsum—a registered nurse herself and the mother of two young daughters—said once the children were freed from the vehicle, the scene remained harrowing. “The mom was standing there practically hyperventilating, so I grabbed her and we just started praying,” she said. “We just begged the Lord to please bring them back.”
What happened next, Borsum said, was nothing short of a miracle.
By the time paramedics arrived on the scene (the accident happened about 15 miles from the nearest hospital), all three children were breathing again. Alive because of the quick action and selfless bravery of complete strangers who happened to be in the right place at the right time.
“I laid in bed last night just bawling with happiness that we saved those babies,” Bourgo said.
“I’m speechless,“ Borsum agreed. “I literally can’t shake the goosebumps.”
And as to the question of what made the couple stop, why they didn’t just keep driving towards their carefree lake day and let first responders handle the situation?
“I’d stop for anyone—I’d help anyone,” Bourgo said.
“Life is so hard,” Borsum added. ”We never know what’s going to happen. We have to help each other.”
Photo by Jesse Bourgo.