Newton, MA Brakes Fail Car Into Lake, Apr 1958

5 AGED WOMEN DIE AS DRIVERLESS CAR PLUNGES INTO BAY STATE LAKE.

Newton, Mass. (AP) - Five women residents of a nursing home - the youngest 80, the oldest 96 - were trapped and drowned in a driverless automobile yesterday when the car slipped its brakes, rolled down a grade and into a lake.
William L. Bruce, 34, an assistant dean at Harvard Law School, dived after the car but could not open its doors because of the water pressure. He said the women inside "looked terrified - numb with fear."
He said that for five minutes, as the air-filled car slowly settled into the water, the women fought desperately to escape and stared through the closed windows in horror as four men tried to free them.
One of the victims was MRS. INA DOWLING, 85, who precipitated a Miami court scandal in 1954. Her accusations that a Florida court had mishandled her husband's two-million-dollar estate led to grand jury inquiries into court officers' conduct and to the impeachment
of a judge, later acquitted.
The others were identified as:
MRS. GERTRUDE CUMMINGS, 85;
MRS. HATTIE GORDON, 96;
MRS. ESTHER ROSS, 92;
and MRS. DETHILDA HINRICHS, 80.
"The women were frozen with fear," Bruce said. "One woman had her face pressed against the back seat of the car - blocking out the sight of the rising water."
Mrs. Kenneth Watson, 58, owner of the nursing home, said she was about to drive the five women on a ride into the country when the accident occurred at 3:40 p.m. The car belonged to MRS. DOWLING.
Police quoted Mrs. Watson as saying: "I had just helped the women into the car and was going back into the house after a coat. I shut the door on the driver's side and left the motor running and the brakes on."
Mrs. Watson said that as she walked away the car lurched forward and moved down the driveway. She ran after it but couldn't get near it.
Police guessed that one of the women may accidentally have shifted the automatic transmission lever into drive position.
The car knocked down a 3-inch flagpole, plunged 30 feet down an embankment, rolled further and took another 30-foot dip into Crystal Lake. It settled in 12 feet of water, three car lengths from shore.
Mrs. Watson ran back into the house and fainted.

Newport Daily News Rhode Island 1958-04-21