West Newbury Harbormaster Jim Reilly hovers around a submerged car, its trunk lid breaking the water, waiting for divers to attach a cable to tow the car out. The car’s driver escaped after going into the Merrimack River at the fishing ramp near the Rocks Village Bridge yesterday.

WEST NEWBURY — A Merrimac woman and her son watched in shock as a car crossed in front of their vehicle and traveled down an embankment, narrowly missing a large tree before splashing into the Merrimack River.

West Newbury police said Caleb Burke, 31, of 13 West Main St., Merrimac, was driving a 1998 Infiniti sedan about 10 a.m. yesterday when he fell asleep at the wheel. He was driving near the West Newbury side of Rocks Village Bridge, across the river from the east end of Haverhill.

Police said Burke lost control of the vehicle and veered into oncoming traffic before going off the road and into the river off Church Street. Police said Burke refused treatment at the scene.

Marcia Bunnell of Merrimac was driving south on Church Street with her son Seth, 13. She was planning to drop him off at Pentucket Regional Middle School, where he is a student.

Mother and son had just crossed over the Rocks Village Bridge from Haverhill into West Newbury and were approaching a public boat ramp a few hundred yards from the West Newbury side of the bridge.

Marcia Bunnell said the Infiniti that was coming in their direction suddenly and without warning crossed in front of their van as though taking a sharp left turn down the boat ramp.

“He crossed in front of us, drove through some bushes and almost hit a tree before landing in the water,” Bunnell said. “We debated whether to jump in when the man in the car escaped through his window and waded to shore. I yelled, ‘Are you alone?’ and ‘Are you OK?’ and he said, ‘Yes.’”

Police said Burke will be charged with driving with a revoked driver’s license, reckless operation of a motor vehicle, failure to keep to the right and speed greater than reasonable and proper.

Marcia Bunnell said she spoke briefly to Burke after he got out of the river and that he told her he didn’t really know why he had lost control of his vehicle.

“He said he’d gotten up really early and that it was his mom’s car,” she said.

Police said he fell asleep while driving.

West Newbury police were notified of the accident by a caller and responded to the scene, along with West Newbury firefighters, West Newbury Harbormaster James Riley, Merrimac police and firefighters, Amesbury firefighters, a member of the Massachusetts Environmental Police, and divers from the Northeast Regional Dive Team.

By the time the divers reached the vehicle, only the popped open trunk of the Infinity could be seen above the water. The car was about 100 yards downstream from where it entered the water and was about 50 feet from shore. Divers connected a towline to the car so a tow truck could pull it out of the water, up a steep embankment, and up and over a guardrail.

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