Oct. 25 began like any other workday for OOIDA member Judith Klutch. She left her home in Newport News, VA,her four children and husband to do her job.

by Keith Goble

Judy recently began driving again after calling it quits more than seven years ago for the birth of her first child. In early October she got back behind the wheel, running empties for Thompson's Export in Newport News. Her love for driving lured her back behind the wheel.

"I've wanted to drive a truck since I was about four to six years old," she recalls. "I told my parents I was going to drive a big truck someday."

Every day, Judy took the Monitor-Merrimac Memorial Bridge-Tunnel causeway on Interstate 664 from Newport News to Portsmouth, VA. She tried to forget the nightmare she had two or three days after taking the job. In the terrifying dream, she drove off into the water.

Earlier in the day as she traveled southbound on the bridge, there was construction in the northbound lanes. To avoid the congestion on the return trip, she intended to take another route.

"I made a mental note to take a different route on my way back, but I forgot," she recalls.

As Judy approached the bridge she could only shake her head about forgetting to take a different route back. Once on the bridge, she encountered a terrifying situation that too many truckers have experienced on the road; a car, headed into one-lane construction, trying to save a second or two of driving time, squeezed in front of her truck then suddenly stopped. In an instant, Judy's nightmare came to life. To avoid rear ending the car and to keep from hurting anyone, Judy hit the brakes and swerved out of her lane taking the truck into the bridge railing.

"I had two choices. I could either hit the car in front of me or get out of my lane," she said. "As soon as the truck hit the rail I thought to myself, 'dear lord, I'm going into the water.'"

Her truck plunged from the bridge, dropping about 20 feet before smacking into the water. The truck quickly submerged. She recalls water rushing in on her from the front.

"I'm pretty sure the front windshield was busted out when the truck hit the water," Judy said. "The water was a light green color the first few feet I was underwater, but after about 10 feet everything was black."

Because she couldn't see anything, as the rig sunk to the bottom of the James River, Judy thought her eyelids were shut. In desperation to see what was happening, she tried to pry open her eyelids.

"As soon as the truck hit the rail I thought to myself, 'dear lord, I'm going into the water.'"

"As soon as I did that I poked myself in the eyes because they were already open," Judy recalled.

Once underwater and without the aid of light she said her mind went blank. Judy lost all sense of where she was at in her cab. The only thing she felt she could do was feel around for an opening to escape. Unsuccessful, she decided not to struggle and accept what she thought was to be her fate. Judy recalls a sense of peace and warmth come over her.

"I wasn't in pain or scared anymore," she said. At that moment, something unbelievable happened.

"I saw one of my daughters' faces appear in the water," she remembers. "I reached out for her and in doing so I floated out through the busted windshield."

Despite being free of the rig, she still didn't know which way to go to reach the surface. Then, the faces of all four of her children, ranging in age from one to seven, appeared in the water.

"They were telling me to swim toward them," she recalls. "The faces were like a little stepladder through the water." Judy said she then left her body and watched everything happen. "I watched myself swim toward my kids faces. And as soon as my body reached the surface I returned to my body," she vividly described.

Once on the surface, a motorist threw Judy a life jacket from the bridge, and two men, who had been fishing nearby and witnessed the accident, arrived and pulled her up to their boat. She was told that she had been underwater for about two minutes.

Judy's injuries included cuts on her arms and shoulders apparently from swimming out through the broken windshield, as well as numerous bumps and bruises. Because of the saltwater and sand she swallowed while underwater and the trauma to her lungs, Judy was vulnerable to pneumonia in the days immediately following the accident. She was put on medication to dissolve the excess water in her body and to protect her kidneys from shutting down.

Despite the trauma she endured, Judy was allowed to go home only two days after nearly drowning in the waters off Newport News.

"The doctor doesn't understand how I'm doing so well so soon after being underwater for two minutes," she said. The doctors told her she could recover better at home by walking around and being active instead of lying in a hospital bed.

Despite the horrifying experience of crashing into the water and nearly drowning, Judy said there is no doubt in her mind that she'll get behind the wheel again. "I'll get back to work as soon as I get the OK from the doctors," she said. "I will shorten my hours and put family and God in front. The accident has opened my eyes to new things. I feel that I have been given a second chance."