Vienna man swims after car, pulls it to shore

VIENNA – Jim Leach promised to wash the 1999 Subaru Legacy Outback before delivering it to a customer this week.

But Leach didn’t expect the car washing to involve a dunking in the Ohio River.

Mechanics employed by Leach had rebuilt the Subaru in preparation for its resale. The car was parked at the top of a hill on Leach’s property along the Ohio River at 18th Street in Vienna when the car was bumped out of gear, Leach said.

Leach was outside around 5 p.m. Monday when his sister Vicki Sopranik noticed the Subaru rolling down the hill at a high rate of speed toward the river.

Leach said he jumped into the river after the Subaru.

The nose of the car was underwater when Leach reached it, and the vehicle was sinking fast.

He tried to start the floating car but was unsuccessful. The car was about 30 feet from shore at one point.

“I was swimming with it,” said Leach, a local attorney and businessman. “The water was cold.”

Leach was afraid if the car floated much farther out into the river it would sink in about 25 feet of water, making its recovery “a nightmare.”

With the help of his sister, Leach was able to get a rope around the Subaru and pull it to shore.

In the meantime, emergency officials responding to reports of a vehicle floating in the Ohio River at Vienna arrived on the scene. The car was back on land when they arrived, Leach said.

Leach said he cut his feet in the runaway car incident but was glad to avert a big problem. Fuel did not spill into the river, he said.

The interior metal was removed from the Subaru to dry out and fluids were replaced, Leach said. The car will be test driven today.

Leach and his employees are experienced in the restoration of flood cars and know their Subarus.

Leach and Justin Allen recently purchased the former Goldsmit-Black building on 60th Street in Vienna and are using part of the 160,000-square-foot building as a Subaru recycling center, called Carwrex.

They purchase Subarus that are damaged by floodwaters, such as from Hurricane Sandy, and other causes and repair and restore the cars. Carwrex uses Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM) recycled or factory new parts to restore the cars, Leach said.

The reconstructed Subarus are sold on eBay. The Vienna facility has 60 recycled Subarus in stock, Leach said.