a car that is sitting in the water
Key West police saved a man who drove his Dodge Challenger into the ocean near Simonton Beach on April 28, 2024. KWPD/contributed

Before sunrise on Sunday, April 28, a guest at a Key West hotel decided to smoke a cigarette on the balcony overlooking the ocean, when an unexpected sight appeared.

Were those car lights in the water below?

The smoker called police and was right: a black Dodge Challenger had plunged into the water off Simonton Beach with the driver trapped inside. 

Key West officers were already nearby and were on the scene in under a minute. 

Police eventually arrested the driver, Michael Lee Grimes, 41, a Master-of-Arms in the Navy who’s new to Key West, and charged him with misdemeanor DUI. 

But first, they saved his life. 

“You were pulled out as the vehicle was sinking,” KWPD Officer Timothy Malak later told Grimes at the county jail, before he agreed to a breathalyzer test. “So your car was full of water by the time they pulled you out.”

The test showed Grimes’ blood-alcohol content was 0.14. The legal limit is 0.08.

The life-saving mission by KWPD plays out on footage from multiple body cameras, showing officers arriving at the dark beach and finding the Challenger. 

Three officers dove into the water and found Grimes, who couldn’t get out. 

Officers broke a car window, freed Grimes and got him to the beach. He refused medical treatment and told them he was OK.

“As soon as we broke the window, it started going down,” an officer on the beach says of the Challenger. 

Seated on the sand by the water’s edge in wet clothes, Grimes told police he had moved to Key West a week ago and was unfamiliar with the area.

After a night out on his own, Grimes said he was on his way home when he hit the water. He couldn’t provide details to officers at the scene. 

“I was just driving behind a car, the next thing I know I’m in the (expletive) water,” Grimes said. “I remember leaving a bar. The next thing you know, I’m here. I wasn’t even drinking that much at all. Barely.” 

Grimes later said he couldn’t get out of the submerged Challenger and that for the first time in his life, he felt helpless. He cried as Malak explained how timing and police response saved him. 

The car, which Grimes owns, had begun to float with the current. 

“How the hell did you end up in the water?” an officer asked Grimes while he was still seated on the beach.

Grimes doesn’t answer. 

“What the f—, man,” he then says. His T-shirt, still soaked from the saltwater, reads, “Hennything is Possible,” a reference to Hennessy cognac. 

“I think it hit the water and just floated,” another officer on the beach says. “There’s no tire tracks in the sand.”

The Key West Fire Department put additional divers in the water to check the sinking car, which had floated a good distance away from where it was when officers first arrived, Key West spokeswoman Alyson Crean said.

“It was fortunate that one of the first officers on scene was a former Special Forces dive school training officer,” said Chief Sean Brandenburg. “Teamwork is vital in a situation that could have been life-threatening.” 

During the crash investigation, officers detected a smell of alcohol and conducted a field sobriety test. They handcuffed Grimes and took him to jail. 

Grimes was released the next day without having to post a bond, according to Monroe County Sheriff’s Office records.

Gwen Filosa
Gwen Filosa is The Keys Weekly’s Digital Editor, and has covered Key West news, culture and assorted oddities since she moved to the island in 2011. She was previously a reporter for the Miami Herald and WLRN public radio. Before moving to the Keys, Gwen was in New Orleans for a decade, covering criminal courts for The Times-Picayune. In 2006, the paper’s staff won the Pulitzer Prizes for breaking news and the Public Service Medal for their coverage of the Hurricane Katrina disaster. She remains a devout Saints fan. She has a side hustle as a standup comedian, and has been a regular at Comedy Key West since 2017. She is also an acclaimed dogsitter, professional Bingo caller and a dedicated Wilco fan.