Bobby Bowden's grandson dies in crash; another man found alive in submerged car about 8 hours afterwards

1:39 PM, Dec 27, 2013   |    comments
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Video: Friends react to the death of two friends who died in overturned car

Video: Man found alive in submerged car possibly 8 hrs after crash

The wreckage of a car, after it crashed and flipped upside down into a body of water.


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Winter Haven, Florida -- Emergency crews arrived on scene around 7:45 Thursday morning after garbage collectors first spotted a Mitsubishi Lancer that lost control crashing off Country Club Road South in Winter Haven, flipping down an embankment and landing upside down, partially submerged under water.

The car was no longer warm, with the driver dead inside under the murky water. The sheriff's office says rescue crews pounded on the windows and doors but found no signs of life.

"No one was excited about getting in there and finding out," said Billy Joe Watson, who lives along the rural roadway where the car crashed and was among those first on scene. 

Even as emergency crews waited for a dive team to arrive, Watson says he wondered who else might still be in the car.

"There could still be an air pocket in there, but it was so still! You couldn't tell any kind of movement at all," said Watson.

A professional dive team from the Polk County Sheriff's Office arrived mid-morning and was in the process of trying to safely remove the deceased driver -- 25-year-old Rafael Fernandes Valim, and a passenger, 23-year old Taylor Jeffrey "TJ" Bowden -- when nearly four hours after the crash was first discovered, divers suddenly heard sounds from the back seat. 

It was the voice of 22-year old Robert Edwards, who the sheriff's office says was trapped in an air pocket with water up to his chin.

"My buddy called me at 12:30 and said, 'You ain't gonna believe this!' He said there's a guy in there alive," said Watson, who left the crash scene never imagining someone would be found alive. "I said, 'There ain't no way.' He said, 'Yeah, they just got him out.'"

Edwards was rushed to Winter Haven Hospital treated for hypothermia and later released. Valim and Bowden, the grandson of famed former Florida State University football coach Bobby Bowden, were pronounced dead on scene.

READ: Statements from the Bowden family

"They were fantastic people, they would give you the shirt off their back," said close friend Joel Norris, who grew up with all three and was with them Christmas night at Indigo's Billiards Bar.

Norris believes they were driving Robert home when the vehicle lost control and crashed.

"I would say it probably happened around 2 a.m. when they were taking him home," said Norris. "I couldn't imagine what it would be like for Robert with T.J. and Rafael being in the front and him being in there for 10 hours -- eight to 10 hours -- it's hard to fathom."

There were no witnesses and investigators are still trying to pinpoint exactly when the crash happened and if alcohol might have been involved.

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