Polk County man with ties to the sheriff's office dies after his car went into the water

Posted at 11:37 PM, May 17, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-18 02:25:32-04

A Polk County man died after his pick up truck went into a body of water on Wednesday.

Charles Custer, 86, was driving on Morgan Combee Road in Lakeland when he went off the road, for an unknown reason, and into a body of water that is a filled-in phosphate pit and part of Saddle Creek Park. Several witnesses saw it happen.

“They were hollering at him. His window was partially down to get out…get out,” Sheriff Grady Judd said.

Sheriff Judd said Custer told the witnesses he had to get something out of his truck.

“One of the witnesses said take your seatbelt off and he said I’m trying,” Sheriff Judd said.

The truck went under. Firefighters arrived. Two jumped in, as well as a sheriff’s deputy.

“We started swimming around. (We swam) back and forth, up and down in the lake and we couldn’t find it,” Firefighter Cody Bentz said.

Today was Bentz’ first day on the job. He and veteran firefighter, Cimberly Harris, tried rescuing Custer. By the time they arrived, the truck had disappeared.

“It was very hard to see and it was 30 feet deep,” Firefighter Harris said.

More help arrived shortly after that. Divers with the sheriff’s office went into the water, found the truck, and pulled it out of the water. The sheriff said he knew Custer.

“Charlie Custer was a good man. He was very active in the Masonic organization and as I said he worked in Court Security for us about 11 years,” Sheriff Judd said.

Custer held a civilian position with the sheriff’s office and retired in 1999.

Bent said he hoped he could have rescued Custer.

“I just want to say I’m sorry to the family and I’m sorry for that man,” Bentz said.

The sheriff said traffic homicide is investigating the case.