LEWISTON – A 66-year-old woman whose car slid into the canal near the Bates Mill Complex early Friday died later in the evening at Central Maine Medical Center.

Police said Jeannine Morin of Pierce Street survived for at least three hours as her car was partially submerged in the water after crashing near the intersection of Ash and Canal streets.

A man plowing at the Bates Mill Complex just before 9 a.m. Friday was credited with leading rescuers to Morin as she was trapped in her car. She was taken to CMMC where attempts were made to keep her alive throughout the day.

Early Friday night, friends and neighbors said they were told Morin had died. The death was confirmed by a hospital spokeswoman.

“She was such an awesome, awesome lady. You won’t meet a better person,” said 43-year-old Margaret Howard, who lives in the same building as Morin. “She helped me survive cancer. She helped everyone in this neighborhood in one way or another. Everybody loved her. And we thought she’d pull through.”

Police said Morin spent at least three hours stuck in her Toyota Camry in the icy water of the canal, until the driver of a St. Laurent & Sons plow truck spotted her vehicle.

The frigid canal water was up to Morin’s waist when she was pulled out of her car, according to rescuers. She was semi-conscious at the time and still in the driver’s seat.

The woman’s son, Gerry, told police he had been waiting for his mother to pick him up at about 5 a.m. but she never showed up. He and Morin’s friends began looking for her, believing she may have been off on other errands.

“She always showed up on time,” Howard said. “Always.”

Police and other rescuers praised plow truck driver John Bosse for spotting the partially submerged car and for reporting it immediately. Had he not, Morin likely would have died in the canal, they said.

“I was plowing in front of Davinci’s and I saw a car down there, right there in the canal,” Bosse. “The fence was down but there were no foot prints leading down there. I thought, ‘what the heck?'”

Bosse, 40, said at first he suspected the car might have crashed a day earlier and simply had not yet been hauled out. Then he began to believe something worse had happened.

“I jumped out and ran around that little bridge. I started pounding on the car windows,” Bosse said. “They were frosted up and I couldn’t see inside.”

Bosse used a radio to call his dispatcher. Police were notified and then the Fire Department.

“I told them, ‘I think there’s someone in there,'” Bosse said.

Moments later, police and fire crews arrived. Firefighters got into water rescue gear and had Morin out of her car within minutes. She was carried up over an embankment where an ambulance waited.

“She looked very limp,” Bosse said. “It didn’t look good.”

Divers from the Androscoggin County Sheriff’s Office later hauled the sedan from the frozen canal. The front driver’s side wheel was lodged in the ice, and a crane was required to pull it out.

“Everybody came together to help out,” Lewiston police Lt. Mark Watson said. “It became a community effort.”

According to Howard, neighbor and friend to Morin, her friends and family were notified that she had died about nightfall.

“Right now, I just can’t believe it. I really can’t,” Howard said. “That woman saved my life. She was like a mom to me.”

Friday’s crash was not the first time a car has gone into the canal. In March 1994, 19-year-old Belinda James crashed through a fence on Main Street into the canal. Police believe James, who had just obtained her driver’s permit, hit the accelerator when she meant to step on the brake. She came down Lisbon Street to turn onto Main Street and the car swung in a wide arc. Panicking, she apparently moved to step on the brake but hit the accelerator instead, her father, Roger James, said at the time.

James’ mother, Paula, survived the plunge.

Belinda James died four weeks after the accident, never regaining consciousness.

Police late Friday were still investigating what led to Morin’s accident. Several officers said they took a personal interest in Morin’s condition throughout the day.

“It’s a tough luck story,” Watson said.

“You always want people to survive,” said Androscoggin County Sheriff’s Detective William Gagne, leader of the dive team. “You always hope for a happy ending.”

Sobbing as she spoke, Howard said she had suffered through three forms of cancer. Every time she got bad news, she said, Morin was there to boost her up.

“She always told me, ‘have faith. Have faith.’ Jeannine was my inspiration and she kept me alive,” Howard said. “I believe in angels. She was an angel on earth, so I believe she’s up in heaven, right now.”

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