When Kansas Highway Patrol Lt. Phil Bostian saw a car on the shoulder of the Kansas Turnpike near the Mulvane exit late Thursday afternoon, he thought the driver was having engine trouble.
"Are you all right?" he asked the driver when he reached her window.
"Aren't you here for the call?" the woman asked.
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The woman turned and pointed toward a sewage lagoon next to the Wyldewood Cellars Winery, where a car was lying upside down, partially submerged.
Master Trooper Dallas Gilmore, coming south on the turnpike at the Haysville/Derby exit, heard Bostian's radio call for help and immediately flipped on his lights and siren.
By the time he reached the scene, Bostian was down by the lagoon, stripped down to his T-shirt and uniform pants.
Winery employees were trying to find a ladder to aid with the search, Bostian told Gilmore.
"We don't have time," Gilmore said.
Gilmore climbed into the sewage lagoon, holding onto a long stick held by Bostian.
"It was only up to my waist," Gilmore said. "I couldn't reach the car and hold onto the stick."
So he let go of the stick and grabbed the first door he could reach. It turned out to be the back passenger door.
"We realized, 'There's got to be a driver. We need to find him,' " Gilmore said.
Once they had opened the front passenger door, Bostian reached in, felt the victim and began pulling him out.
"He was completely under water," Gilmore said of Joseph Edgerton, 53, of Wellington.
The troopers pulled him out of the car and began performing CPR on him on the embankment next to the lagoon.
Paramedics took over upon their arrival and transported Edgerton to Wesley Medical Center in Wichita, where he remained in critical condition Friday.
Investigators aren't sure why Edgerton's car crashed. The 1996 Ford drifted off the turnpike shortly before 5:15 p.m., went through a fence, struck an embankment next to the sewage lagoon and flipped over into the water.
Bostian and Gilmore were hosed down by a fire crew at the scene.
"We were filthy," Gilmore said.
Bostian changed into a fresh pair of uniform pants that he had in his patrol car. Gilmore went home to Wellington to shower and change, then returned to duty.
Gilmore said he has climbed into deep ditches filled with water before in his 14 years as a trooper — but never a sewage lagoon.
"That smell, it burns into your nose," he said.