Unable to Escape Truck, Elderly Man Perishes in Lake

Charles CusterCharles Custer, 86, was awake and talking but unable to remove his seatbelt as his pickup truck started sinking in a lake at Saddle Creek Park this afternoon, witnesses told deputies. The truck sank, and the truck with Custer’s body was later pulled from 30 feet of water, according to the Polk Sheriff’s Office.

The truck carrying Custer, who was a civilian court security officer for the Sheriff’s Department from 1988 until 1999, had veered off Morgan Combee Road and into the former phosphate pit around 3:45 p.m., officials said.

Witnesses said they told him to get out but he said he had to get something out of the truck before saying he was trying to unbuckle his seatbelt, The Ledger reported.

Here is the Sheriff’s Office account of the incident:

PCSO received 911 calls from witnesses who saw a pickup truck that was heading westbound on Morgan Combee Road, veer off the roadway to the south, down an embankment, and into a body of water (a filled-in phosphate pit, part of Saddle Creek Park).

The driver, who has been positively identified as 86-year-old Charles Custer, was awake and talking to the witnesses as they yelled at him to get out – his window was partially down. Custer was unable to get his seatbelt off and get out of the truck, and it quickly became completely submerged underwater.

The first first responders to arrive on-scene were Polk County Fire Rescue personnel, Cody Bentz and Cimberly Harris, who both jumped into the water. The first PCSO deputy sheriff to arrive on-scene, Deputy Josh Ringdahl, also jumped into the water. They were unable to locate the truck.

The PCSO Dive Team responded to the scene, and recovered the truck, with Custer’s body inside. It was down approximately 30 feet underwater.

Custer was employed by PCSO as a civilian in Court Security from 1988 until he retired in 1999. An agency member photo of him is attached.

The investigation is ongoing.

Deputy Sheriff Ringdahl is 29 years old and was hired as a deputy in June 2015. For information about the firefighters who jumped into the water, please contact Polk County Fire Rescue PIO Kevin Watler.