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‘I thought it was just a doll,’ paramedic says about rescuing baby; mother and father found dead

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Paramedic Todd Zobrist said he saw a car seat in the partially-submerged vehicle but didn’t immediately know there was a baby inside.

Then he felt the baby’s feet.

“At first I thought it was just a doll,” Zobrist told reporters during a news conference Friday.

He recalled saying to himself, “Hey, this is an infant baby.”

The Highland paramedic is being hailed a hero after saving the baby from a vehicle that went into Silver Lake in Highland on Thursday morning.

Zobrist said when he and other emergency workers arrived at the scene, they figured there was a possibility of someone being inside the sport-utility vehicle.

“I said, ‘I’ll go,'” Zobrist recalled.

Zobrist stripped off his clothes, swam in frigid water to the vehicle and began reaching and looking inside.

“The baby was floating between the second- and third-row seats,” he said.

Zobrist said he isn’t so sure about the hero label being given to him.

“I don’t know about that,” he said. “Just right place, right time.”

Madison County Sheriff John Lakin described Zobrist as a “true hero” during a press conference on Thursday afternoon at the sheriff’s department in Edwardsville.

Lakin said 31-year-old Zobrist, who has been with the department for eight years, got to the scene of the car in the lake quickly and dived into 46-degree water, while another paramedic, Ty Barr, 35, stayed on shore and coordinated the emergency response there.

He swam 75 feet to the car.

“… He found a 3-month old child floating in the vehicle at the top of the water with about 6 inches of airspace above that,” Lakin said. “He was able to grab the child by a limb and removed the child from the car.”

Zobrist then began CPR on the roof of the car before swimming on his back to land.

The baby was reportedly doing well and was expected to be released from the hospital on Friday.

Police say the baby’s mother, Cristy Campbell, 32, of Glen Carbon drove a blue-gray Nissan Armada SUV, with the baby inside, off a two-lane highway and into Silver Lake near Highland.

Campbell’s body was pulled from the lake about 1:30 p.m. Thursday.

Campbell’s home at 15 Dogwood Lane in Glen Carbon was ablaze Thursday morning, and Campbell’s husband, Justin Campbell, was found dead inside. He died of a gunshot wound to the head, according to the Madison County Coroner’s Office.

Campbell’s six other children were home at the time of the fire and escaped without injury. All six were placed with relatives, according to authorities.

U.S. Rep. John Shimkus honored Zobrist on Friday in Washington. Moments after the House concluded legislative business, Shimkus addressed the chamber to recognize Highland Zobrist.

“Yesterday afternoon, Todd was the first to arrive on the scene after receiving a call of a vehicle in Silver Lake with a person possibly inside,” Shimkus said. “When he saw the vehicle partially submerged, he swam out in the cold water to search for anyone inside. He found an unresponsive baby boy, rescued him from the vehicle, and immediately began CPR on the roof of the vehicle. Todd was able to revive the 3-month old at the scene and the baby was transported to a St. Louis hospital where he is expected to make a full recovery.”

The congressman added, “I would like to commend Todd for his heroic and life-saving actions. It’s a great tribute to Southern Illinois.”

Shimkus also ordered a flag to be flown over the U.S. Capitol on Friday in recognition of Zobrist’s heroism.

Return to BND.com for more on this developing story.

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