PICTURED: Father, 52, who died after ‘accidentally’ driving SUV into freezing Michigan lake – before popping trunk to let his daughters, aged 10 and 8, escape and swim to shore in middle of night
- Police said Jon Paul Dowler’s SUV did not have an internal handle on the trunk
- Cops said evidence indicated he popped the trunk from the driver’s side switch
- Dowler’s daughters were able to escape and huddled on a frigid porch all night
- A GoFundMe page has been set up by friends to help the girls and their mother
A Michigan father who died after accidently driving his car into a freezing lake may have popped the trunk of his SUV to help his young daughters could escape and survive.
Police said 52-year-old Jon Paul Dowler unintentionally sent his and his daughters plunging into Lake Macatawa after he got lost navigating down a dark road in the early hours of Sunday morning.
Dowler was unable to escape, but cops think he may have saved his eight and ten-year-old daughters by opening the car’s back hatch with its driver’s seat trunk switch.
The girls managed to swim for safety, and spent the 30-degree night huddled together on a nearby porch until they were found physically unharmed in the morning.
Jon Paul Dowler, 52, and his two daughters. The three of them accidentally drove into Lake Macatawa in Michigan
Two young sisters escaped from a car that had plunged into a lake in western Michigan
Police said the car’s back trunk had no handle on the inside of the door, so it was likely the Dowler opened it himself as the car sank into the frigid lake.
‘He was trying to break his windows to get out,’ Ottawa County sheriff’s Lieutenant Eric Westveer said, adding it looked like he may have managed to get the trunk open.
‘Divine intervention, or it could be as simple as dad hit the button,’ Westveer previously said.
He added that the girls still hadn’t gotten the full story from the girls, noting they were taking things slow with them because of the trauma they’d been through.
‘We’re still trying to talk to the girls,’ he said. ‘It sounds like they were lost and disoriented. They were trying to get home.’
Jenny Barnes Dowler and her two daughters. The kids survived the accident, but Jenny’s husband did not
Emergency services were on the scene as they pulled the girl’s father’s body from the water
The car plunged into the lake at the end of Jenison Avenue, a quiet neighborhood street in Macatawa that dead-ends straight into the lake.
Police are still trying to piece together a full timeline of the events of the accident.
Authorities still haven’t determined where Dowler and his daughters were going at that hour, but police said the tragedy ‘appears to be a pure accident.’
‘We believe that the father became disoriented, not familiar with the area, which ended up [with] him ending up in the water just because of the way that road is constructed there,’ the lieutenant said.
Tire marks can be seen leading from the road, onto a grassy area then directly into the lake
The car plunged into the lake at the end of Jenison Avenue (above), a quiet neighborhood street in Macatawa that dead-ends straight into the lake
Resident Kevin MacLeod found the girls after they knocked on his door the morning after the accident
After escaping from the car, the girls tried to find help, but were unable to as the neighborhood typically empties out in the wintertime.
They ended up hunkering down on someone’s porch and waited for daylight after spotting the lights on a Christmas tree inside the home. The girls were still wearing wet winter coats and had lost their shoes when they showed up at resident Kevin MacLeod’s front door.
‘I just saw a little face,’ Kevin MacLeod said, telling MLive/The Grand Rapids Press how he responded to a knock at his door. ‘I just figured they were in trouble.
‘They had a really bad night. Today’s not good either and they’re probably not going be good for a while,’ he said. ‘They lost their dad last night. That’s tough at any age.’
Lt. Westveer said the girls borrowed survival techniques they remembered from a TV show.
‘One of the comments they made to the officer that actually talked to them … they told him that on a TV show, they learned that if you huddle together, you can use each other’s body heat to stay warm,’ he said. ‘They were soaking wet and it was 30 degrees out.’