INDIANAPOLIS — As he clung to the rear of his sinking Pontiac G6, Anthony Burgess, Jr., begged his 3-year-old daughter to crawl toward him.
“Open the door,” witnesses heard him say, again and again. “Open the door.”
The girl clambered to the back seat and opened the door, still above water. Burgess, 24, grabbed her and held her above him as the car disappeared into the pond that sat in the middle of their apartment complex — the pond Burgess had been so excited about, one of his friends said, when he and his family moved in just days earlier.
Burgess called for help — he didn’t know how to swim. A bystander swam out and took hold of the girl, and then Burgess disappeared, too. Twenty minutes later, an Indianapolis Fire Department dive team pulled him, unconscious, from the water. Six hours after that, around 11:30 p.m. Sunday, he died of his injuries.
His daughter, whose name is being withheld on the family’s request, was in stable condition as of Monday afternoon, according to the fire department. Burgess had not been able to save himself, but he had saved his daughter.
“That’s all he wanted to do,” to take care of his daughter, said Kayla Chaney, a cousin of the girl’s mother. She told the Indiana Daily Student she had known Burgess since middle school and lives, like Burgess did, at Core Riverbend Apartments in the Castleton area.
Burgess, a father of three, was “all for the kids,” Chaney said. The family had hit hard times before, she said — they’d slept on floors — but he was proud to have moved them into the Riverbend complex. He was enamored with the pond at its core, surrounded by steep slopes that led down from parking spaces.
“I like having that lake,” she remembered Burgess saying when the family moved in last week. “It’s a beautiful scene.”
Minutes before he rescued his daughter, Burgess had parked in one of the spaces near the pond. Though he lived a few more buildings down, he wanted to get out and talk to one of his friends, Chaney’s boyfriend. His daughter tried to follow him out, but he told her to get back in the car, and she climbed across the front seat, apparently bumping the gear shift on her way.
Chris Catlett, 25, had just moved into another nearby building. He had just dumped a broken dresser behind a dumpster when he heard someone shouting: “Oh shit, my car!”
He looked toward the pond and saw the navy-blue G6 sliding in, then Burgess and his friend running into the water. As he reached the pond, he saw Burgess on the car, its front end already submerged, calling for his daughter to open the back door.
A 30-year-old man across the pond jumped in to assist and pulled the girl to shore. He was taken to St. Vincent Hospital to be treated for hypothermia, according to the fire department.
After Burgess sank into the pond, two firefighters swam to the spot where he’d disappeared, 30 feet from shore. They searched 10 feet under the surface but couldn’t find him. A dive rescue team arrived and, after searching a spot pointed out by Catlett, found Burgess more than 20 feet underwater.
IFD pulled the car from the pond Monday morning. The gear shift was in neutral. An Elmo doll lay on the back seat.
Some neighbors said they worried about the pond. One recalled at least one previous case of a car sliding down the grassy slope, and Chaney said she's nearly done the same.
Catlett said he’ll get a length of rope to keep close by, in case anyone else ever needs to be pulled out of the pond.
Chaney, who has a 2-year-old daughter, worries about the depth of the water, she said. Now, it doubles as a painful reminder of a lost friend.
“I have to look at it every day,” she said.
Burgess had been in her apartment just that morning, talking with her and her boyfriend. He seemed happy with his life. His 25th birthday would have been Saturday, but Chaney said he brushed off suggestions of celebrating. He just wanted to spend time with his family, he told her. He’d celebrate later.
On his Facebook page, Burgess posted heart emojis and photos of his kids. One post is a selfie taken originally on Snapchat, with a caption: “Family’s Worth more than Money.”