Beagle survives 70-foot plunge from bridge

Brandi the Beagle from Burlington Township, N.J., survived after she leaped off the Burlington-Bristol Bridge into the Delaware River late at night. She swam to shore and was found hours later. (Photo / Alexis Lorenz)
Brandi the Beagle from Burlington Township, N.J., survived after she leaped off the Burlington-Bristol Bridge into the Delaware River late at night. She swam to shore and was found hours later. (Photo / Alexis Lorenz)
Posted: September 21, 2012

It's certainly amazing that Brandi - a shy, skittish, once abused Beagle - survived a plunge from the height of the Burlington Bristol Bridge.

But just as noteworthy might be the amount of effort her owners, police, and a local group of dog walkers put into the search to make sure she survived.

Brandi's owner, Alexis Lorenz of Burlington Township, Burlington County, said her dog's airborne misadventure and epic swim began Friday night when her husband Robert took the couple's two Beagles for a routine walk.

Robert strolled along the promenade that fronts the Delaware River in Burlington City with the pooches, Brandi and Rosie. Brandi, 7, was a rescue dog and believed to have been abused when she was younger.

But problems began when strangers wanted to pet the dogs. It was sometime around 10 p.m.

"Brandi is afraid of everyone," Alexis Lorenz said. "So when people come up to pet her, she escaped from her harness and ran north on the promenade. My husband searched for an hour before he came home to tell me she was missing."

The couple enlisted a group of other regular dog walkers who had become friends over the years. They began scouring the area.

One of the group alerted them that police had seen a dog at the bridge, about four blocks from where Brandi was last seen.

As Lorenz approached the bridge, she saw police activity, including search lights, along the riverbank.

Burlington County Bridge Police Sgt. Sgt. Ray Warmkessel recounted what happened from there.

His partner, Officer Bob Bittner, had been alerted by a toll collector that a dog was running up the middle of the bridge.

Bittner responded and saw cars slowing to avoid the dog. But Brandi's paws became trapped in the metal grating at the peak of the bridge that opens for ships.

"It was after 10 p.m. We have a pretty good flow of traffic," Warmkessel said. "A couple people stopped and tried to catch her and that's when she went over side."

Brandi had become frightened and decided to jump. Warmkessel estimates she plunged anywhere between 65 and 75 feet into the dark water below.

Warmkessel, Bittner and others rushed to the side of the bridge to look. And what they saw amazed them.

"We were very much surprised she survived," Warmkessel said. "We saw her swimming. The current was taking her up river and she just swam to the beach."

From there, the onlookers lost sight of Brandi in the darkness. Warmkessel radioed a passing New Jersey State Police Marine Unit boat, which joined in the search by illuminating the bank with its lights.

That's when Lorenz arrived at the scene along the riverbank. No one, however, could find Brandi. But no one gave up. In all, more than a score of people joined in the search.

The Lorenzs' searched thickets by the shoreline and other areas for hours. Finally, Alexis Lorenz went home to change in preparation of searching the entire night.

She returned about 1 a.m. and her luck changed.

"I got there at pitch dark," Lorenz said. "And there was Brandi just standing in the path of my headlights, in the pitch dark. I just couldn't believe it when I saw her.

"It was wild. She was wet, and she was walking. She went into the back of the car, and just stayed there. She was a scared little dog."

It was about three hours after Brandi first went missing.

Back home, Brandi jumped into her favorite chair without a problem. She had no broken bones, or apparent injury. A trip to the vet the following day showed she had a bruised stomach, but nothing else.

"I'm happy and elated," Lorenz said. "If there were any more adjectives to describe what I was feeling, I wish I could express it. All I can think is that, wow, she is back and I thought I'd never see her again. I've never even seen her swim. I don't know how she did it."

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