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Father used last moments to save his daughters by popping trunk as car sunk in icy lake

Jon Dowler and his two daughters. Mr Dowler died after accidentally driving into a lake. He reportedly released his car’s back hatch, allowing his daughters to escape, just before he drowned. (Lorelei Denton/ GoFundMe )
Jon Dowler and his two daughters. Mr Dowler died after accidentally driving into a lake. He reportedly released his car’s back hatch, allowing his daughters to escape, just before he drowned. (Lorelei Denton/ GoFundMe )

A father in Michigan died while saving his daughters after he accidentally drove into a freezing lake, police said.

Jon Paul Dowler, 52, died on early Sunday morning. He was reportedly driving late at night near Lake Macatawa in Ottawa County when he became lost and began driving a dark and narrow road that leads directly into the lake, MLive reports, citing police.

Mr Dowler’s 8 and 10-year-old daughters were also in the car at the time of the incident.

The father reportedly drove into the lake on accident, then as the front of the car was beginning to sink, triggered a release to open the vehicle’s rear hatch, which allowed his daughters to crawl out and swim to safety, according to Ottawa County sheriff’s lieutenant Eric Westveer.

Mr Dowler’s body was found in the car.

“He was trying to break his windows to get out. It looks like he possibly popped [the hatch]," Mr Westveer said. When the car was removed from the water, it was found that the hatch release had been triggered.

The girls emerged from the lake around 2am, soaked, cold, and without their shoes. They sought help in the surrounding neighborhood, but many of the homes surrounding the lake are vacation properties that sit empty in the winter.

According to national weather data, the low that day in the area was 31F, or just below freezing.

Having had no luck finding help, the girls huddled on a porch until the morning.

The girls eventually found help the next morning around 9am when they spotted an inhabited house approximately 200 yards from the lake’s shoreline. A couple living at the house let them in and gave them dry clothes to wear while they waited for the police.

Responding police interviewed the girls, but due to the trauma of the previous night they were unable to determine where the girls were headed when the crash occurred. They did learn that the girls are from Otsego, Michigan.

"We’re still trying to talk to the girls," Mr Westveer told the outlet. "It sounds like they were lost and disoriented. They were trying to get home."

A GoFundMe established by a family friend is collecting money for the girls and for the family to replace its car, which was lost in the accident.