This Man Jumped Off a Bridge to Save a Child After a Car Accident

A car crashes on a bridge and a child is catapulted into the water below. Who will save her?

Man standing on the side of a bridge near waterJim Wright for Reader's Digest
Jonathan Bauer wasn’t sure what to expect when he jumped from the Route 90 bridge to save a child.

It was a bright spring afternoon along the Maryland coast, and Jonathan Bauer, 51, a technology executive at a hospital, and his 13-year-old daughter, Ava, were taking full advantage of it. They were driving with the windows down as they headed home on the 1.4-mile, two-lane Route 90 bridge, which spans the shallow waters of Assawoman Bay. Suddenly, the calm was disturbed by the squeal of tires.

The crash that changed everything

Not far ahead of them, a black pickup was skidding from one lane to the other. To the Bauers’ horror, it slammed into a concrete barrier, spun like a top, flipped over the SUV directly ahead of them, and came to rest dangling over the railing of the bridge. Bauer hit the brakes in time to avoid the vehicles in his path, but a BMW sedan that had smashed into the guardrail on the right came sliding backward toward him. He swerved left, but too late—the BMW struck his Volvo’s fender before crashing into the vehicle behind him.

Bauer stopped the car. “Ava, are you OK?” he asked. She was shaken, but otherwise unhurt.

He ran to the BMW. “Are you OK?” he asked the driver. She nodded, too shocked to speak.

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And then a shriek. It came from the pickup, which had come to rest on its right side. The rear passenger compartment and truck bed hung out past the guardrail, 30 or more feet above the waters of the bay. The driver’s door flung open and a man climbed out. He dropped to the ground, then sprinted to the railing. Bauer ran up beside him. The man pointed down, saying something in Spanish. In the water was a car seat. Bobbing next to it, a girl, about two years old. Pink polka-dotted dress, brown hair, brown eyes, terrified, floating on her back, kicking and splashing and screaming.

Make sure you know what to do after a car accident that will make all the difference.

A parent’s worst nightmare

From around the truck, more screaming from its other passengers who had gotten clear of the wreck and were looking down into the water.

Matters quickly went from bad to frightening when the toddler rolled over onto her stomach. Bauer waited for the pickup driver to do something, but he didn’t budge. Maybe he was in shock.

Bauer lifted the girl out of the water. She wasn't breathing.

“Ava!” Bauer yelled, stooping to remove his shoes. “Stay by the car!”

He held no illusions about his chances jumping from this height into such shallow water. Four feet of depth was the most he could hope for—he’d gotten his boat stuck here a time or two. And were there rocks this close to the concrete pillar of the bridge?

He’d soon find out.

A leap of faith

He climbed onto the railing and executed the most painless belly flop he could muster. A moment later he was bouncing off the sandy bottom—unhurt! The little girl was less than 10 feet away. Bauer swam to her in a few quick strokes and lifted her out of the water: mouth half open, eyes nearly closed, not breathing. Standing, he laid her against his shoulder and whacked at her back with the flat of his hand. Come on… come on…

And then a retching sound as ocean water came streaming from her mouth. But still no breath. Another whack on the back and another retch, followed by a gasp, and then the beautiful sensation of little fingers gripping him around the neck. Her eyes were opened now, focused on him. He pulled her close, hugging her to shield her from the cold.

A moment later a family on a pontoon boat pulled up and hauled Bauer and the little girl aboard. They motored to a boat ramp where an ambulance waited. Minutes later, the girl was en route to Johns Hopkins Hospital in a helicopter, and Bauer was hugging his own daughter next to their banged-up car on the bridge. The toddler suffered a broken shoulder but was otherwise uninjured.

Man and daughter sitting on a pierJim Wright for Reader's Digest

Ava Bauer was so inspired by her father’s actions that four months later she became a cadet firefighter so that she too could save lives. “That girl is going to live a whole life because of him,” she says. “It’s incredible.”

If this story inspired you, read about the Dads on Duty who are preventing violence at their local high school.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest