Tears flowed Thursday as Cindy Hendrickson thanked one of four geocachers for saving her life.
“Thank you so much,” she said as she began to cry, sitting in her bed at Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland.
“I’m just grateful you’re alive,” replied high school math and science teacher Tim Turner, speaking by cellphone from Lakeside High School in Idaho.
A joke changed the tears to happiness — “You weren’t exactly at your best when we first met,” Turner quipped.
Hendrickson, 52, spent 14 hours trapped in the back seat of her car overnight after rolling down a 150-foot embankment on Oct. 29. She fractured two neck and five spinal vertebrae, as well as two ribs.
She doesn’t remember much after the 2008 Ford Escape left McBee Road, south of Benton City and Interstate 82.
Turner and his friends Trevor Bland, Derek Fisher and Leland Smith were on a geocaching trip when they spotted the Escape the next day around 11 a.m.
The debris around the vehicle led them to investigate. Hendrickson was in the back seat when they found her.
“The first thing I remember is a guy sticking his head in the window and asking, ‘What are you doing in the back seat?’” Hendrickson said.
They called 911 and talked to her until emergency services arrived about 10 minutes later.
“If you hadn’t shown up when you did, in two hours I would have been dead,” Hendrickson told Turner on Thursday.
“I am very thankful to have found you,” he replied.
Cindy and her husband, Anthony, offered to drive to Spokane and buy the geocachers dinner to show their appreciation. Their daughters, Tiffany and Ashley, nodded their agreement. Turner gave her his phone number so they can arrange the meeting.
Cindy said her healing is a slow process, made easier by being surrounded by family.
“She’s made amazing improvements,” Ashley said.
I am very thankful to have found you.
Tim Turner, geocacher
The family does not know how Cindy rolled her car off McBee Road, but suspect it was a combination of fog, a soft road edge and another vehicle going the other way.
“I don’t really remember much, but I remember a car coming, and I tried to get out of the way,” Cindy Hendrickson said. “The back tire went off the road, then the rest went.”
She was driving up the Horse Heaven Hills toward property her family once owned, bringing a new telescope with her to see the stars. She enjoys staring at the stars and enjoys the vastness of space, but the fog was too thick, and she turned around to drive home.
“As long as I was a kid, she was always looking at the stars,” Ashley said.
The telescope is missing. Anthony thinks it is at the crash site.
“I didn’t see a telescope. The glass can’t be any good,” Turner said via cellphone.
I’m so lucky to be alive right now.
The car rolled down the hill with enough force to leave imprints of the roof rack in the ground. Turner remembers seeing CDs and broken glass around the wreck.
“Your first question to me was, ‘Is it totaled?’” Turner said.
Cindy is on medical leave from her job as a financial services specialist for the state Department of Social and Health Services. She has worked for the state for 18 years.
While insurance is covering most medical expenses, the flight in a helicopter from the crash site to Kadlec was not, according to Anthony. The family created a GoFundMe page for donations to help with expenses and her rehabilitation.
Cindy appreciates the help everyone has given her since the crash, from the geocachers to the people taking care of her at Kadlec, she said.
“I’m so lucky to be alive right now,” she said. “I do want to thank everyone.”