Man who drove van off cliff into Lake Erie charged with impaired driving

The man was behind the wheel of a white GMC Savannah when it went off the end of Baldwin Avenue and fell 60 feet into the water below.

NDP MP Tracey Ramsey says she worked out deal with OPP to have van towed from water

A man was trapped inside this white van after driving off the road, down a steep bank and into Lake Erie in Colchester late Thursday night. (Meg Roberts/CBC)

A man who drove off a cliff and into Lake Erie has been charged with drunk driving and refusing to provide a breath sample.

The man was behind the wheel of a white GMC Savannah when it went off the end of Baldwin Avenue and fell 18 metres into the water below.

"The water was chest deep and rising when the police reached the driver," wrote OPP Const. Karen Sinnaeve in a media release. "Police had to provide medical care to the driver until EMS and Essex Fire arrived."

A woman also jumped into the water to check on the driver.

The man sustained minor injuries and showed signs of impairment before he was arrested and transported to hospital, according to police.

"The immediate response by three Essex County OPP members to enter into Lake Erie to rescue this individual is significant and speaks to their professionalism," said Essex County OPP commander Glenn Miller. "The actions by a driver in not obeying our drinking and driving laws is not only disappointing but once again placed the public and our OPP members in a dangerous situation."

Van still sits in Like Erie

The man's license has been suspended, but the van remained in the lake Friday evening because no one took responsibility for the bill.

The owner of the towing company called out to assist on Thursday said police cancelled the job because the vehicle was in the water and not in the jurisdiction of provincial police. 

Derek Didone Jr., the owner of County Towing, returned to the site several times Friday, but still could not find anyone who would give him a work order, which he estimates will likely cost anywhere between $10,000 and $15,000, if everything goes well.

"We're more than capable and willing, and we want to do this job, but at the end of the day, I'm not paying it out of my pocket," he said. 

Town of Essex officials would not foot the bill either, saying the van was not on municipal property. Councillor Larry Snively eventually reached out to Tracey Ramsey, the NDP MP for Essex, to find out if she could help.

Ramsey then contacted the OPP and worked out an agreement to have the van towed, according to officials from her office. Ramsey also plans to visit the site Saturday morning. 

Removing a van from Lake Erie should not be such a difficult challenge, said Snively, who spent much of his day contacting anyone he could from the federal government about the problem.

"It is frustrating because we have a van in the water and no one wants to take the responsibility to get it out," he said. 

Resident Anne Marie Grant, who lives in the area, echoed Snively's comments, saying cleaning up a collision should not take so long. She and other neighbours were concerned about oil and fuel leaking into the lake.

"I'm pretty ticked off. This is just bureaucracy in action," Grant said. "We need to think of the environment first and then everything else we can work out later."