AUSTIN (KXAN) – Dramatic video replays the night a young woman drove her car down a boat ramp into Lady Bird Lake in July of 2012. Madeline Rackley and a friend escaped, a third friend in the backseat drowned.
Two Austin police officers were writing reports near the ramp about 2 a.m. on July 1, 2012 and witnessed the accident.
KXAN requested the video from Austin Police and the recording from officer Ashley Edwards’ patrol car dash camera shows a small car come into frame and plunge into the water making a large splash. There is no audio on this portion of the recording.
Edwards had to drive only a few yards to reach the edge of the lake. Once she exited her vehicle, she expressed her astonishment at the scene unfolding before them and advised Officer Judd not to go in the water, presumably fearing for his safety in the dark lake. She then asked Judd to get his rope.
All APD officers keep basic water rescue equipment in the trunks of their vehicles and receive water familiarization training at the academy. That includes jumping into deep water wearing weights equivalent to their gun belts.
Edwards then commented the car seemed to be lodged on something under the water and it was still floating. Edward then radioed police dispatch to call fire and EMS for assistance.
And then the grainy video becomes dramatic as one of the female occupants began to exit the Honda Civic.
Ofc. Ashley Edwards: Oh, she’s getting out.
Ofc. Matt Judd: Can you swim?
Ofc. Edwards: Oh, the car’s going… Oh sh*t! (To Judd:) Go, Go, Go!
Edwards then told dispatch: We have two in the water but we’re not sure if there’s more inside the car,but it just went under.
The officers then splashed into the lake after the sinking car. The video shows one of the women from the car come ashore and sit down next to a bridge support. Police divers would later find the car 30 yards away from the boat ramp and recover one body from the back seat.
The day after the accident, police charged 25-year-old Madeline Rackley with intoxication manslaughter. Her long time friend, 25-year-old Ryan Whittington, a tennis star at Texas State, drowned.
Both officers, who each had about five years with the department at the time, would later receive valor medals from the police department for their efforts.
In November of that year, Edwards told KXAN’s Shannon Wolfson, “We did the best we could, and if I could go back and change it, and have a few more minutes to get inside the vehicle, and realize that someone was back there, then we would have done all we could and hopefully have brought him (Whittington) home as well.”
In November 2013, a tearful Rackley told a Travis County Court judge she agreed to 10 days in a Travis County jail and a 10-year probation program in which she will have to perform 200 hours of community service and undergo random blood alcohol tests.
Whittington’s family attorney told the judge they wanted as the least amount of punishment that would do the most good for Rackley who pleaded no contest to another drunk driving charge in 2009.
That forgiving spirit did not stop the Whittington’s from launching a civil suit against the owners of the Lustre Pearl bar on Rainey Street, where the three young people had been drinking before the crash. That civil trial was supposed to get underway this month. KXAN has reached out to the family’s attorney.
The tragedy was also at the center of a Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission investigation. It resulted in a $40,000 fine which the bar paid.
The TABC found that Lustre Pearl over-served Rackley. The order also limited the kinds of drink specials Lustre Pearl can offer and required the bar to have enough staff to be able to monitor how much their customers drink.