Gwinnett County Firefighters searched on Monday for a vehicle that got swept away into Jackson Creek in Lilburn. The vehicle was later found and the female driver was deceased. (Staff Photo: Tyler Estep)
LILBURN — George Ruiz was returning to a work site when he saw it happen — the car left Harbins Road and drove into Jackson Creek, a body of water surging to at least 10 feet deep with rain and runoff.
Ruiz tried to drive his Hummer around and the cut the vehicle off but got stuck. He last saw the car, which he described as some sort of crossover, pointed nose down and drifting around a corner.
“There wasn’t a whole lot I could do,” Ruiz said.
Several people called 911 and Gwinnett County firefighters and Lilburn police responded to the scene, not far off Lawrenceville Highway. Around 4 p.m., the car and its deceased female driver — identified Tuesday as 57-year-old Loganville resident Fawzia Jamshidi — were found in a debris-filled area of the creek about 400 feet downstream.
Fire department spokesman Lt. Colin Rhoden called it a tragic ending.
“The best outcome would have been that they would’ve gotten down there and been able to find a viable person,” he said, “but unfortunately what occurred was the person was deceased at the scene.”
When firefighters originally responded to the scene around 12:40 p.m, they put members of the swiftwater rescue team directly in the water to search. Their efforts were unfruitful, so they launched an inflatable boat tethered to the bridge at Harbins Road.
Long “pike poles” were used to feel for anything solid or metallic underneath the water’s surface.
“They were able to get the boat in the river and then systematically tie ropes to it and slowly send the firefighters down the river in order to search,” Rhoden said.
Gwinnett County and most of northern Georgia saw about two inches of rain Monday morning and are under a flood watch. The creek, maybe four feet wide and six inches deep on a regular day, was at least 10 feet deep and approximately 15 feet wide Monday.
Diver Carlos Martinez said the underwater visibility was “zero.” The current was fast.
“No idea,” Martinez said when initialy asked if crews knew how far the car may have drifted.
Capt. Dominic Aquila, who was leading the swiftwater team, said it only takes four to six inches of water for a small car to float.
“And once the car loses any traction at all, that’s it,” he said. “It’s gone.”
A 911 call was made by the victim but shed no light on how she ended up in the creek, Lilburn police spokesman Capt. Thom Bardugon said. Jamshidi's vehicle was removed from the water "just after dark" Monday, Bardugon said.