“There’s someone lying in the road!”
The startling cry pierced the darkness as the Ford Bronco 2 braked to a stop off the highway. In the distance across Interstate 84, a mangled SUV lay upended, its roof crushed, shards of glass and metal scattered on the roadway.
A collision? A single-car crash? Only passing headlights illuminated the outlying scene.
“I had been asleep in the backseat when I heard Darla (Frimodt) shout,” Ruth Greene of Pasco said, remembering how the vehicle they were in immediately pulled off the roadway. “I threw off my sweatshirt — don’t know why — and held onto it when I ran across the highway,” an action that would be critical minutes later, she explained.
Ruth, her husband and Darla were returning from Pendleton in the early hours of July 4. Traveling west on I-84, they spotted an accident in the far eastbound lane of the divided highway, a rollover that happened only moments before.
Quick to react, and despite the wide expanse of roadway to cross, Ruth raced to the badly injured driver.
“I took one look at his leg — it was all torn up — and I knew I couldn’t look at it again,” Ruth said, the open bleeding flesh and exposed bone still a vivid memory. “But I got up close by his face and I said, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing, but I’m here to help.’ ”
In that heartbeat of uncertainty, the athletic 60-year-old woman asked for heavenly backup.
“I don’t know if you believe in Jesus Christ,” Ruth said hurriedly, “but I’m going to say a prayer. ‘Help us now, Lord Jesus. We need you right now!’ ”
Immediately, Ruth had the distinct feeling that she was being guided, she said.
“I didn’t have a clue what to do, but when I looked up there was a guy standing there and I yelled, ‘Give me your belt,’ ” Ruth said, describing how she cinched it around the upper part of the mangled leg. “He was a big guy and the belt only had 7 or 8 inches to hold onto, so I braced my foot on his thigh and held onto it like a tourniquet.”
While Ruth’s friend, Darla, directed traffic around the accident, Ruth held the belt tightly, slowing the blood flow. Her sweatshirt was now a pillow between his badly lacerated head and the unforgiving asphalt.
Even after the emergency medical team arrived, she held fast, comforting the battered man who was “talking up a storm,” Ruth said.
“The paramedics told me not to let go of the tourniquet because he could bleed out,” Ruth said, recalling how she held onto the belt while they stabilized him. “Once they got him up to the ambulance and they’re loading him, I finally let go of the belt.”
The emergency vehicle doors shut. The siren wailed. Into the night the ambulance disappeared.
“I had tears,” Ruth said, remembering how her emotions began to surface. “Then I felt a hand on my shoulder — a paramedic or a fireman — and he said, ‘You probably just saved his life.’ ”
The impact of how she had been in the right place at the right time overcame her; the realization that she hadn’t wanted to make the trip to Pendleton — even arguing against it — hit her forcefully.
“I cried all the way home,” Ruth said, remembering how she continued to think about the stranger long after her tears stopped. “I worried about him. Did he lose his leg? I just didn’t know.”
Oddly enough, no one had asked her name that night nor did Ruth know the name of the man she had rescued. Their connection to each other was broken.
In the days that followed, Ruth made calls to hospitals where he might have been transported. She contacted the Oregon State Patrol and the Washington State Patrol. All were dead ends.
Praying for the crash victim would be all Ruth could do over the summer months — until providence intervened.
“My sister, Ellen, had stopped by to see her grandson who’s with a clean-up team on foreclosures,” Ruth said, excitement playing in her voice. “While they’re outside, something was said that got Ellen talking about how I had saved a guy’s life down in Oregon. The next thing you know, a neighbor — she’d overheard the conversation — comes over to Ellen and says, ‘I know who that guy is! My daughter is friends with him.’ ”
Brian Zacharias lived, but lost his leg, the neighbor said.
A random house. A stranger next door with a connection. The timing of the circumstances coming together seemed like a miracle.
Relieved that Brian survived, Ruth called his place of business in Pendleton, Pin Cushion Tattoo, but her calls and voice messages went unanswered. In time, the number was no longer in service. Discouraged, her only option was to stay connected to him in prayer.
Nevertheless, a different phone call did connect.
I received a message at the Tri-City Herald about a story that might be a good fit for Light Notes and I followed up on the lead.
Ruth was very tentative about being in the limelight, her heroic deed something she had held close. But she relented and we interviewed, parting with these words: “I wish I could see Brian again and give him a big hug.”
A thought nudged me. What if I could locate Brian and there could be a reunion?
On Oct. 5, Ruth’s wish came true as she was enveloped in Brian’s grateful hug, an emotional meeting caught on video.
That reconnection in downtown Pendleton “filled in the blanks” for both — the roadside memories forgotten by the recent amputee and Brian’s difficult health journey after the ambulance sped away.
Even now, Ruth’s thoughts return to the fateful night when their lives first connected, “I think my guardian angel collided with Brian’s guardian angel,” she said.
And at the poignant reunion a few weeks ago, Brian and “angel” Ruth also met up once again.
Brian Zacharias GoFundMe: www.gofundme.com/2k45u2s
The July 4, 2016, accident on Interstate 84 involving driver Brian Zacharias of Pendleton, Oregon. Now an amputee, Brian said he spent 18 days in an induced coma, and experienced a total of 12 surgeries involving his head and both legs. He is self-employed and unable to work since the accident.