Following months of rehab, Bremerton man is back on the road

After a couple of months in rehabilitation for his injuries, Bremerton
After a couple of months in rehabilitation for his injuries, Bremerton's 88-year-old Jack Doninger is back at home. He was at the wheel when his brakes went out May 8 and he ended up trapped underwater in Sinclair Inlet.
— image credit: Leslie Kelly

He was just going to the post office to get the mail.

But he ended up under water in Sinclair Inlet, at the bottom of Trenton Avenue.

“It was just lucky that there were people nearby,” said Jack Doninger, 88, who was at the wheel of his wife’s 1991 Cadillac on May 8 when it went underwater. “I guess there was a crew that was testing boats for the Coast Guard and they came right over when saw me go in the water.”

Indeed, that’s just what happened.

Doninger, a resident of Bremerton, is now at home, after two months in a rehabilitation center where he was taken after a few days in the hospital. He said he can recall almost everything that happened that morning.

“I was heading down the hill and something went wrong with my brakes,” he said. “I couldn’t stop the car. I didn’t want to hit a house or hurt anyone and cause any more misery. So I steered right between the house and the tree and ended up in the water.”

As the car sailed through the air, he said he thought, “This is it.”

And then the car hit the water at at least 75 miles an hour. He knows that was the speed because he looked at his speedometer coming down the hill.

The car was submerged quickly, he recalled. He saw the water rising. He tried to get the door open, but couldn’t. The next thing he knew there was someone there trying to knock out the glass in the car window.

“He got the glass out and he went to the surface,” Doninger said. “Then he came back with a knife and cut my seatbelt.”

As Doninger would find out later, that man was one of two employees of SafeBoats who were nearby testing a boat for the U.S. Coast Guard. They came to his rescue, as did a neighbor who saw the car go underwater and a Bremerton police officer and firefighter who were first on the scene.

Doninger said he remembers being pulled out of the car and put on the ground. He said he never left this world or ‘saw the light.’ And he remembers being given CPR.

“I took on a lot of water,” he said. “They were very vigorously giving me CPR.”

He was taken to Harrison Medical Center by ambulance as a group of onlookers watched. Soon the car was pulled from the water.

“It was a total loss,” Doninger said. “It was a beautiful car … it was my wife’s car.”

In fact, his car was in the shop, so he took his wife’s car that morning when he left the house. Her car hadn’t been driven in awhile. It was scheduled to go in the shop the following day when he got his own Jeep Wagoneer back.

Following the accident his insurance company ruled the Cadillac a total loss and paid him for its value.

Doninger describes himself as a rough kind of guy, whose been out and about in rough terrain. He worked for AT&T for 35 years in a middle management position.

“I think that’s why I knew just what to do when I was coming down that hill,” he said. “I kept my head on straight. I kept trying to brake, but nothing happened.”

As for his injuries, they included lung problems and chest muscle strains.

“That’s why they put me in rehab,” he said. “It took awhile for my lungs to heal and for my breathing to get back to normal.”

In fact, he said, the rehab was rigorous.

“Many exercises,” he said. “I knew I wasn’t getting out of there until I did everything they wanted me to do.”

He’s glad they got him up and running again and he’s so thankful to the folks who were around to save him. He’s also glad he didn’t get a ticket.

“The police said it was just an accident and didn’t give me a ticket,” he said. “Something good in all of this,” he joked.

And he has a good memory of the event — seeing his wife’s smile at the hospital after the accident.

“She hugged me and thanked the good Lord that I was still alive,” he said. His stepsons, Randy, of Port Orchard, and Larry, of Tacoma, soon arrived and told him they were glad he was still with them.

As for driving, he’s back at it.

“I was never scared to get back behind the wheel,” he said. “I figure nothing like that’s going to happen twice.”


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