VALLEY VIEW — As a passenger on the Valley View Ferry watched in horror, a Lexington man drove a Cadillac into the Kentucky River from the Jessamine County side.
The Jessamine County coroner's office identified the man as Martin Paez, 90.
"It appears he was confused, based on preliminary investigation," Deputy Coroner Dennis King said. The incident is being investigated as an accident.
Paez's body was recovered at 4:30 p.m. — about 30 minutes after divers entered the water, Jessamine County fire Chief Mike Rupard said. Paez was wearing a seat belt when divers found him, Rupard said.
Shortly before 1:30 p.m., the ferry was taking a couple of vehicles across the river from Madison County to Jessamine County, said Roger Barger, chairman of the Valley View Ferry Authority.
Barger said a female passenger on the ferry blew her vehicle's horn to alert the two-man ferry crew about the car in the water. The passenger on the ferry said the Cadillac "drove very slowly" down a ramp and into the water, Barger said.
He said the passenger told authorities the motorist "was not attempting to get out in any way."
A community-service worker on the ferry piloted a johnboat from the ferry to the car in an attempt to rescue the driver. The unidentified community-service worker took a hammer with him to break the car's glass, but Paez indicated he did not want the glass broken.
"The gentleman asked him not to break the glass," Barger said.
Barger said the community-service worker apparently broke the window anyway.
The car was found standing about 20 feet below the surface in the river's main channel. The driver's side window was broken out when the vehicle was pulled out of the river.
The community-service worker "was very heroic in trying to get to the man and save his life," Barger said.
Barger noted that there are flashing lights and a stop sign to warn motorists driving south on Tates Creek Road to stop in their approach to the river.
In February 1994, a 43-year-old man drowned at Valley View when he drove his pickup south on Tates Creek Road through a steel gate and into the river, according to the Herald-Leader archives.
But that apparently happened at night or early morning, unlike Thursday's incident. And in the 1994 incident, the ferry had been shut down for a week because the river was swollen from rain and melted ice runoff.