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PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. -- Trooper Tom Winders was upset when one of two people he pulled from a submerged car didn't survive.
"I felt like I had failed, that I wasn't able to help her," Winders said.
But his heroic actions last year west of Lake Worth earned him the Florida Trooper of the Year award Tuesday. Winders, 34, was assigned to work on Florida's Turnpike at the time but has since been promoted and transferred to Miami-Dade County.
"Trooper Winders displayed extreme courage at great personal risk," said Colonel John Czernis, director of the Florida Highway Patrol, in a written statement.
Winders was on his way home from work on June 22, 2007, when he came upon a car that had flipped and sunk into a canal just south of Lake Worth Road on the turnpike. Two people were still inside.
He took off his vest and gun belt and dived in. Once in the water, he cut Maria Gamarra out of her seat belt and dragged her to land. He plunged in again and rescued Raul Erazo, now 23.
Winders said both victims looked grim when they were pulled from the water, but CPR efforts appeared to revive them. Erazo lived. Gamarra, 20, died at Delray Medical Center.
Winders has met with both families and said it's helped him come to terms with what happened. He said he was overwhelmed -- and a little nervous -- as he received the award from state Cabinet officials in Tallahassee Tuesday morning.
"It was very intimidating, kind of like going to the principal's office," he said, laughing. "It was actually one of the most exciting things I've ever done. It's a huge honor. It's definitely a humbling experience."