March 17--It's Wednesday, just before 4 p.m., and Elizabeth Funk is headed home.
The next few days hold the promise of an escape from Iowa's chilly weather; she and her family are planning a long drive down to Florida for vacation, and Elizabeth, an Ames High School student, is coming home from school late because she stopped at the Ames Public Library to borrow a book to read on the lengthy trip.
She isn't really thinking about Florida when it happens. There's a song on the radio by the country group Rascal Flatts. The song is called "Changed." Elizabeth, 16, is singing along.
The first verse goes, "I came up out of the water."
It happens, and then time seems to slow. She sees the car, a Volkswagen Rabbit, coming at her, and she has time to sound the horn on her own vehicle, a Honda Civic, before the collision occurs near the intersection of Mortensen Road and University Boulevard.
And suddenly she's in the air.
"It felt like it took forever," she said. "It felt like I was flying for so long."
The car landed upside down in a creek far below the road. She remembers being surprised at how fast the chilled water started seeping into the Civic's interior, filling up the roof.
Elizabeth is screaming frantic prayers. "Help me, God. Save me. Get me out of here, God. I'm trusting in you."
Somewhere in the back of her mind, she thinks, this can't be happening.
There is a tiny corner of her window where she can still see out, and she can see the steep, rocky, snowy ditch leading back up to the road, and she can see people clambering down it, trying to get to her, trying to save her. But they're all moving so slow, and the water is rising so quickly and ...
Elizabeth Funk realizes she isn't going to survive this.
Elizabeth is a swimmer. As the water starts to reach the top of her head, she takes a breath in. She knows that the water will be over her soon. She knows the breath she just took is going to be her last.
"When I took that last breath, I had accepted the fact that I was going to die," she said. "And I was OK with that, because I knew I was going to go to heaven."
The water climbs up. It's very cold. She is a faithful person. Everyone has a time. This is hers. She is scared.
A hand lands on her ankle. And squeezes.
It was lucky, the police will say later, that Officer John Barney, a three-year veteran with the Ames Police Department, was parked nearby, just a quarter mile up the road, when the call came in, having pulled over to fight with a glitchy computer in his squad car.
It's lucky that he has the ability and training to do what needs to be done.
Barney's gun belt is lying on the shore. He's taken an asp, a device like a baton, and smashed the Civic's window to get to where Elizabeth is preparing herself to die. When he grabs her ankle, Elizabeth begins to thrash furiously to show him that she's alive.
"I knew I was going to live, that I was going to survive this," she said.
With a knife, Barney slashes the seat belt holding her in place, and he pulls her out and over to shore. Elizabeth doesn't remember any of that. What she remembers next is lying on the snow with the officer standing over her, asking her if she is 100 percent certain there is no one else in the car.
She says she's sure.
The events of the last few minutes catch up to her and she begins to freak out. Barney reassures her: It's OK. You made it. You survived. All around her, people are telling her the same thing.
She's still alive.
Two days later, Elizabeth and her parents are on the road. She isn't much the worse for wear -- a few bruises, quite a bit of soreness. The only thing that will be lasting is knowing exactly how close this trip came to not happening.
"I think that the whole family, including me, has been more grateful than we normally would have been," she said. "We're not taking this for granted at all. We are aware of the fact that I could have been gone very easily."
The plan is to spend their time in the Sunshine State relaxing, letting the events of the past few days erase themselves and get over all the stress they've caused.