Two young sisters are recovering in hospital rooms after a motor vehicle crash Wednesday night in Elma.
They might not know it yet, but they owe their lives to a group of people who happened upon the scene and worked to keep them alive until they could be freed from the wreckage.
Mark Wetzel was headed out to dinner with his fiancee and her two children Wednesday when he turned the corner from Creek Road onto Jamison Road in Elma.
He saw brake lights. A cloud of dust.
“Debris flying everywhere,” said the 52-year-old retired Elma man, recalling the heart-pounding moments that followed.
A car had crashed.
The driver had somehow lost control while eastbound on Jamison, according to a report from the Erie County Sheriff’s Office. The car crossed over onto the west side, narrowly missing an oncoming car. It slid onto a front lawn before striking a tree and rolling over.
Wetzel found it upside down. As he rushed to the car, two other men who were driving by came running up, too.
The men raced to one side of the mangled vehicle. “There’s a girl in there. We need to get her out.”
Wetzel looked in and saw a bloodied young girl hanging upside down by her seat belt.
“She was very terrified,” Wetzel said. “The look on her face … ”
The roof of the car had been crushed in, jamming the car door, Wetzel said.
“Is there anybody else in the car?” the men said to the girl. But she was too dazed to answer.
Wetzel and two men grabbed hold of the crumpled car door and pried it open.
“One of the men bent down and tried to talk to her and take a look at her,” Wetzel said.
Someone walked over to the other side and tried to look under the car.
“There’s nobody else in the vehicle,” the person said.
Wetzel knew that couldn’t be right. The girl they had found was on the passenger side. There’s got to be a driver, he said the thought.
About that time, a man who identified himself as a certified EMT arrived at the scene. He crawled under the crumpled wreckage.
“There’s a driver here,” he yelled. “She’s got a pulse, but she’s not responsive.”
Wetzel explained to them that the crushed roof was pressing so hard against the driver’s head that it was pinning the teenager’s chin to her chest.
“She can’t breathe,” the EMT said. “… I’m losing her.”
Wetzel and the two other passers-by grabbed the back corner of the car and lifted it just enough to take the pressure off the girls’ head and open up her airway.
As they worked, the EMT carefully held the girl’s neck and head steady.
She started breathing.
A couple more men arrived at the scene and helped the others keep the wrecked vehicle from moving.
“At that point, the car got lighter,” Wetzel said.
“OK, let’s put some rocks under it,” someone yelled and the men wedged some decorative rocks under the vehicle to keep it from teetering back onto the girl’s head.
Fire crews arrived and brought out jacks and blocks to stabilize the car, and firefighters used their jaws-of-life tools to slice open the car and get the driver out.
As Wetzel stepped back he saw that rescuers were already putting the passenger on a board to get her ready for the ambulance.
He looked back at the older girl and saw, as EMTs worked on her, that she moved her hand, as if to move hair out of her face.
She too was placed in an ambulance that would rush her to an awaiting Mercy Flight helicopter.
The volunteers, about a dozen by that time, all stood and watched as the ambulances left. “We kind of stood there,” Wetzel said.
Then he got back into his car and drove his family to dinner as planned. His fiancee was shaking, he said. Luckily, someone had parked their car right next to theirs and her children couldn’t see what was going on.
Wetzel believes what he and the other men did on Wednesday was what anyone else would have done.
“There was a whole bunch people who pitched in,” he said. “It was the thing to do.”
The girls, who are sisters, remained hospitalized Friday. The driver, identified by sheriff’s officials as a 17-year-old girl, was in critical condition at Erie County Medical Center. The younger girl, who is 12, was in stable condition at Women and Children’s Hospital. Investigators have not yet determined what caused the crash, said Traffic Sgt. Daniel Dytchkowskyj.