Ill. mom of baby rescued from submerged SUV found dead; dad unaccounted for after deadly fire

The paramedic who swam into a southern Illinois lake to save a baby says he briefly questioned his decision to jump into the frigid water, but is glad he did.

"That water was cold, and the car was out a distance. I got halfway out and realized that it was horrible decision. But then I said I had committed to this so I continued," he said.


Paramedic Todd Zobrist spoke at a news conference on Friday, a day after jumping into 46-degree water at Silver Lake near St. Louis and saving 3-month-old Julian Campbell.

Zobrist says he swam about 75 feet and thought a doll was floating inside the SUV, but realized he was holding a baby by the arm when he reached inside the vehicle. Zobrist performed CPR on the roof of the SUV, then swam the infant to shore. The baby is expected to survive.

Authorities say the boy's mother was driving the SUV that plunged into the lake Thursday morning, about 15 minutes after a fatal fire erupted at the family's nearby home. The mother, 32-year-old Cristy Lynn Campbell, was found dead in the lake hours later.

The coroner in Madison County, Illinois, released the information Friday as investigators try to untangle the events that preceded the death of 32-year-old Cristy Lynn Campbell.

A fire broke out at her home around 5:15 a.m. Thursday in nearby Glen Carbon, Illinois. Six siblings, ranging up to age 14, escaped, but an adult died.

Coroner Steve Nonn says an autopsy will be conducted to positively identify the person killed in the fire. Campbell's ex-husband and the father of the children, 37-year-old Justin Campbell, is unaccounted for.

About 15 minutes later, an SUV was spotted driving into Silver Lake, about 16 miles away in Highland, Illinois.

Madison County Sheriff John Lakin says a motorist called 911 Thursday morning to report a car heading down a hill toward Silver Lake.

Highland Emergency Medical Services chief Brian Wilson called Zobrist's actions heroic.

"He definitely saved the child's life," Wilson said.

"It was definitely good news for the family - especially with all the bad news - that all the children are safe," Zobrist said. "I'm ready to go back to my normal shift and have things to go back to normal."

Some of the children ran to a nearby Wal-Mart, others to a home in the neighborhood. The kids at the Wal-Mart asked an arriving worker to call 911, Lakin said.

Cristy Campbell was not in the home when firefighters arrived nor was the couple's seventh child, 3-month-old Julian.

The child, initially unresponsive, is expected to recover and could be released Friday from a hospital in St. Charles, Missouri, Lakin said.

"Today was a tragic day all the way around because of both scenes," Lakin said. "Fortunately, there is something good that can come of this."

After finding the baby, authorities began searching the water. A body was pulled from the lake around 11:15 a.m..

Court records showed that Cristy Campbell and Justin Campbell, 37, had a volatile relationship.

In 2005, before they were married, Justin Campbell was charged with domestic abuse for allegedly attacking Cristy Campbell, then known as Cristy Brueggemann, by slapping her in the head when she was pregnant. He was sentenced in March 2006 to probation and fined $500.

Despite the violence, they wed on Nov. 3, 2006. She filed for legal separation in September of 2010, but the matter was dismissed two months later.

In April of 2012, Cristy Campbell obtained an emergency protection order against her husband and filed for divorce, alleging in court papers that he "abuses me on a weekly basis," including punching and choking her.

"He has told me that I'm a no good wife," Campbell wrote in her application for the protection order.

The divorce was granted in February 2013.

Lakin said Glen Carbon police have answered several calls to Campbell's home, including some "domestic-related situations," but he declined to elaborate.

"The Glen Carbon Police Department was aware of that house," Lakin said.

Authorities said the children are with Illinois authorities and will be placed with relatives.

Glen Carbon is about 30 miles east of St. Louis.

AP - ABC News contributed to this report.
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