MAHWAH, N.J. (CBSNewYork) – An off-roading adventure went horribly wrong in North Jersey.

A man attempting to drive across part of the Ramapo River got stuck late Friday night.

CBS2’s Lisa Rozner spoke exclusively with the Mahwah police officers who saved him and his family.

Shirtless and in distress, police said 39-year-old James Van Wyckhouse desperately tried to get his white pick-up truck out of the river, while his girlfriend and three kids, ages 5 to 12, were inside.

“There were several times he was sucked under, because of how fast the current was,” Officer Devin Gannon told Rozner.

Water quickly seeped into the cab. Someone saw the headlights and called 911.

Mahwah Police Officers Gregory Lehman and Devon Gannon arrived. First, Gannon went into the chest-high water.

“I was able to secure three of children out of the vehicle. At which point, the water was so cold that I didn’t have much feeling left in my legs. So I switched off with Officer Lehman,” he said.

Lehman then went in and rescued the woman, 45-year-old Ingrid Mota.

“She herself was visible shaken by the experience of being stuck out there,” he said.

Van Wyckhouse was examined for hypothermia and refused further medical attention. The children were nearly untouched by the water.

“I was able to hold them high enough so that it was minimal — the parts of their bodies that were in the water,” Gannon said.

The terrain shows a well-traveled path, but it’s extremely dark out there, which made the situation all the more challenging.

“Even though there was a full moon, it was still pretty dark,” said Gannon. “There was no ambient light in that area, there’s no street lights, there’s nothing.”

But the officers said they never hesitated.

“No thinking was needed. It was instinct,” Lehman said.

“It’s not about self-preservation. It’s about protect and serve,” added Gannon.

The officers said it’s just another day on the job.

After the life-saving rescue, they went home, got a new change of clothes, and returned to duty.


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