On the night of March 21st, 2017, what began as a routine traffic stop for Belvidere Police Officer Joe McDermott escalated into a life-and-death situation after a drunk driver drove her minivan – with her infant daughter inside – into the river.

McDermott says his attempt to stop the vehicle failed when the driver “jerked the wheel…and began traveling off-road through Belvidere Park.”

In her effort to escape, the impaired driver, Ember Hall, crashed into the Kishwaukee River.

“I didn’t really have much time to think, besides…getting these people out of there,” McDermott says, remembering the incident. “I started breathing hard, and my chest was getting tight, seeing them sinking in the van like that.”

With the ambient outdoor temperature in the 30’s – and the water, frigid – McDermott quickly leapt into action, wading into the water and swimming out to free the trapped driver.

Officer Ryan Davenport was just moments behind McDermott in responding. When he arrived on scene, he, too, attempted to participate in the rescue.

“Officer McDermott had smashed the window by the time I swam out to the vehicle,” Davenport remembers. “I had, actually, exited the river and ran around to the other side, to get there faster, once I realized how deep the water was.”

As the car sunk beneath the surface, the officers heard a horrifying sound: the driver’s infant daughter screaming, from inside the car.

“Hearing that baby scream, it was haunting,” Davenport says. “It was very dark out.”

The officers were able to able to pull the baby out of the car, unharmed.

“When I swam up, he [McDermott] handed the baby off,” Davenport says. “I did my best to keep her out of the water. I was able to hand her off to another officer on scene.”

The officers then were able to extricate Hall from the vehicle. She was sentenced to four years in prison for charges which included putting her child in such grave danger.

At a recent ceremony, Officers McDermott and Davenport were honored by the American Red Cross for their heroic efforts.

“These two officers went above and beyond the call,” says Belvidere Police Chief Jan Noble. “I’m extremely grateful that they risked their own lives to save the lives of others.”

McDermott says, “I was very grateful [that] everything turned out the way it did. Had it turned out differently, it would be hard to deal with.”

“If it happened again, I would jump back in in a heartbeat, whether I was driving down the road, or at work,” Davenport says. “It’s just one of those things.”