One dead after car crashes into Kalamazoo River in Saugatuck

Allegan County

SAUGATUCK, Mich. (WOOD) — A man died after a car crashed into the Kalamazoo River in Saugatuck Saturday.

The Allegan County Sheriff’s Office told News 8 the man and his passenger had been at a local bar earlier that night and the driver had been seen driving recklessly shortly before the crash.

The crash happened around 2:30 a.m. near the intersection of Lucy Street and Newnham Street.

The vehicle had gone off the road and was in the water nearby, the sheriff’s office said in a release.

“I assumed a boat had hit our sea wall out on the river there,” said Thomas Battjes, who lives near the scene of the crash. “So, I went to investigate with a flashlight. Shocked to see a car upside down. Taillight still on.” 

Battjes was heading toward the car when he heard a man calling for help. 

A photo of the scene after a car drove through a yard and ended in the Kalamazoo River on Aug. 21, 2021.

“There was a gentleman holding on to the sea wall. I was trying to keep him afloat,” Battjes said. “Shortly after that the first officer arrived.”

The man at the sea wall told Battjes there was another person in the driver’s seat. Battjes says the Allegan County sheriff’s Deputy on scene got in the water quickly. 

“Immediately he was in water swimming to the car,” Battjes said. “Very courageous officer.”

Battjes says another deputy showed up and helped the man at the sea wall get on land. 

Battjes then grabbed a crowbar from his truck and jumped in the water. 

“The officer mentioned ‘I need a man in the water,’ another gentleman showed up and we both jumped in,” Battjes said. “Helped him get the individual to shore. Up on shore performed CPR and an ambulance showed up and took it from there.”

Emergency responders tried to save his life, but he was pronounced dead a short time later.

Officials have identified the driver is 29-year-old Robert Guerra from Holland. 

Battjes says the man who he helped at the sea wall was appreciative of his efforts. 

“He was thankful I was there holding on to him, yes,” Battjes said. “As anyone would in circumstances like that, for sure.”

The man Battjes helped to safety was released from the scene without injuries.

The sheriff’s office was assisted by the Saugatuck Twp. Fire Dept., Douglas Police Dept., AMR and the Allegan County Dive Team. 

— News 8’s Madalyn Buursma and Jake Swope contributed to this report.

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