Robert Bugge took a drive into the Cuyahoga River that few could walk away from.
And for a while Tuesday, Akron rescue workers and dozens of onlookers feared he didn’t.
But lo and behold, Bugge, all bruised and battered, returned to the scene of the crash about 12 hours later to tell police about driving through the Merriman Valley on Portage Path and winding up in the river.
“I’ve never been so close to death before,” Bugge said.
The Akron man said he was driving home about 1 a.m. Tuesday following an after-work dinner when a deer appeared on North Portage Path, just before the bridge over the river.
Bugge, 50, said he swerved his Pontiac sedan to avoid the deer and rode up an inclined, 4-foot-high concrete bridge barrier. His car then slipped through a 10-foot gap between the east and west bridge lanes and skidded down an embankment into the water.
“I came up, and boom, down between the two [barriers],” he said.
His car landed on its top, temporarily trapping Bugge inside and underwater. He managed to free himself and then, dazed and confused, continued his journey home by foot.
“I don’t know how I got out of my car,” Bugge said.
During and after the 2-mile walk, he did not call police to report the crash. He suffered severe head and eye bruises and a small cut on his leg.
“My only thought was to get home where I was safe,” he said.
Police only learned of the crash after receiving a call from an Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail walker who spotted Bugge’s car about 11:30 a.m. Akron firefighters spent considerable time searching the river and Bugge’s car to ensure no one was inside.
Eventually, police contacted Bugge at his home, and he came to the scene.
Bugge, who was arrested in 2010 for drunken driving, denied having any alcohol prior to the crash.
“No sir, I did not,” he told reporters.
Akron police Lt. Rick Edwards said Bugge was fortunate to survive the crash. He also said police cannot prove alcohol was involved because of the passage in time. Instead, Bugge will be charged with failure to control his vehicle.
The crash reminded some of the July 5 death of Christopher Burgess, 41, whose dump truck crashed into the Cuyahoga River after careening out of control while descending Portage Trail Extension. An inspection found the truck Burgess was driving had poorly functioning brakes.
“I’m lucky to be alive,” Bugge said. “Really lucky to be alive.”
Phil Trexler can be reached at 330-996-3717 or firstname.lastname@example.org.