Dog saved after driving truck into Branch Lake

Ryan Schoppe, a tow truck driver with Dave’s Auto Repair and Towing, checks on the tow cable attached to a GMC pickup truck as it is pulled out of Branch Lake on Saturday afternoon. ELLSWORTH POLICE DEPARTMENT
Ryan Schoppe, a tow truck driver with Dave’s Auto Repair and Towing, checks on the tow cable attached to a GMC pickup truck as it is pulled out of Branch Lake on Saturday afternoon.

ELLSWORTH — An elderly man from Penobscot County lost his truck but not his dog when the vehicle rolled into Branch Lake on Saturday afternoon with the animal inside.

The man, whose name police did not release, is a Brewer resident. He was at the beach and boat launch area by the dam on the southern end of Branch Lake off of Mill Dam Road.

Ellsworth Police Detective Dotty Small said the man had his Yorkie with him and was walking the dog. When he saw another man with a German shepherd nearby, however, he decided to put the Yorkie back in the truck.

“He was afraid the little dog would get hurt by the German shepherd,” Small said.

The man left his vehicle running and in park and then continued walking around. When he stopped a short while later to talk with the other man who had the German shepherd, that man said to him, “Look, your truck’s rolling!”

There were some rocks between the truck and the lake, but Small said the 2010 GMC rolled right over them on its way into the water. She said the truck ended up about 75 feet off shore, fully submerged in 8 to 10 feet of water.

A woman who was a family friend of the truck’s owner and was there with him that day went into the water and got the dog out. Small credited her for saving the dog’s life.

“Without the quick response of the family friend, the man would have lost his companion,” Small wrote on the Ellsworth Police Department’s Facebook page. “She is a hero in my book.”

The Ellsworth Fire Department responded to the scene and the Warden Service was notified, as it seemed possible its assistance would be needed in removing the vehicle from the lake.

Small said a tow truck driver from Dave’s Auto Repair and Towing, Ryan Schoppe, swam out to the truck and was able to attach a cable to the submerged vehicle. He then pulled it out of the lake with his tow truck, and the Warden Service was advised its assistance was not needed.

The truck was a total loss as a result of its spontaneous submersion. Small said there was no indication that any gasoline, oil or other fluids leaked out into the lake.

She said the city’s drinking water department was notified of the incident as a precaution, however, as Branch Lake is the source of the city’s drinking water.

Small said when Schoppe got the truck out of the lake, he found the vehicle was in neutral. He also, according to Small, found that he could “put it in any gear without stepping on the brake.” That suggests there was a mechanical issue with the truck.

Small said the vehicle has an automatic, rather than standard, transmission. The shifter is on the steering column, and Small said it seems the dog must have somehow made contact with it and put the truck into gear.

“It’s the only plausible explanation,” she said.

Small said the truck’s owner is a World War II veteran who is originally from Ellsworth. He had come to Ellsworth, Small said, to place flowers on his wife’s grave.

“When they pulled the truck out, the flowers floated away on the water,” said Small.

Dave’s Towing gave the man a ride to his home in Brewer, according to Small.

Although losing his truck was unfortunate, Small said the man was grateful that he still had his dog at the end of the day.

“All he has left in the world is that dog,” she said.

Steve Fuller

Steve Fuller

Reporter at The Ellsworth American,
Steve Fuller worked at The Ellsworth American from 2012 to early 2018. He covered the city of Ellsworth, including the Ellsworth School Department and the city police beat, as well as the towns of Amherst, Aurora, Eastbrook, Great Pond, Mariaville, Osborn, Otis and Waltham. A native of Waldo County, he served as editor of Belfast's Republican Journal prior to joining the American. He lives in Orland.
Steve Fuller

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