A Rock Hill couple was excited about celebrating their 59th anniversary the night of Dec. 28 when a fiery car crash put their plans on hold.
Jean Plowden, 84, was driving to Fort Lawn on I-77 to meet her husband, Irvin, and other family members for the celebration. However, she struck an empty car on the shoulder of the highway just before 6 p.m. Her car spun and hit the concrete barrier that separates the highway lanes.
Then the front of her car burst into flames.
There’s no way that (Jean) could have lived through that fire. People who are just good people who do good deeds – it gives you faith in mankind.
Irvin Plowden, husband of Jean
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Four people driving by stopped to help Plowden, who was alone in the car, said Plowden’s daughter, Amy Plowden McDaniel.
Val Smetka, a doctor who lives in Columbia, and Christopher Boatwright, a junior at USC in Columbia, cut Plowden’s seatbelt and pulled her from the burning car. Boatwright’s sister, Elizabeth, called 911. Another woman stopped and helped Plowden into her car to wait for an ambulance.
“Not everybody stops when they see an accident,” McDaniel said. “…The fact that these two men stopped – they saved her life.”
After McDaniel, who lives in Florida, heard about the accident, she wanted to find the people who helped save her mother.
McDaniel posted a plea on Facebook: “searching for heroes.”
She said she really wanted to thank the “good samaritans who saved my mother.”
From Florida, McDaniel was able to track down Boatwright and Smetka. She said she’s talked to both on the phone. Their numbers are saved in her phone as “heroes.”
“I never would have imagined that Facebook would have played a role like this in our lives,” she said. “And without it I don't think I would have ever found them.”
Smetka, the doctor who stopped to help, said he was driving back to Columbia from Charlotte when he saw the wreck.
He said the car was on fire and he could see someone “slumped over the steering wheel.” He said, at first, he thought she was dead.
Smetka pulled over and jumped into action.
“I didn’t really think about it at the time,” he said. “Obviously the car was on fire and she needed to get the hell out of there.”
Boatwright said stopping to help was a matter of instinct for him. As a lifeguard and an Eagle Scout, he’s had first aid training and knew he should try to help.
When Boatwright got to the wreck and pulled open the door, it fell and hit his leg. He went to urgent care afterward, but at the time, he said he was more worried about Jean’s condition.
Boatwright said he couldn’t put pressure on the leg for several days after the crash. A ligament in his leg was inflamed and he used crutches. But he’s glad he and his sister pulled over.
“My biggest thing I take from this, is if this was someone else’s parents, grandparents … I’d want them to stop,” he said.
Smetka said when he got th the car, Boatwright already had cut the seatbelt with a tool Jean kept in the door. Smetka spoke to Jean and was able to carry her out of the burning car and into the car of another passerby before an ambulance arrived. He said Jean was conscious but complaining of shoulder pain.
Boatwright’s father, Glen, said it’s lucky Jean kept a seatbelt cutter nearby. Without it, they may not have been able to get her out, he said.
Glen said he’s proud of the role his son played.
“He put his life on the line to help somebody else he didn’t know,” Glen said.
McDaniel said Jean has broken bones in her hand and shoulder.
“She’s really banged up but she’s alive,” McDaniel said. “And there are no burns. It’s a miracle they got her out of there.”
Irvin Plowden said he’s grateful someone stopped to help his wife.
“You can’t say enough. I would just thank them and thank God for saving her life,” Irvin said. “There’s no way that she could have lived through that fire. People who are just good people who do good deeds – it gives you faith in mankind.”
The car was completely burnt, Irvin said. Jean is recovering, but still in pain.
Irvin said the couple put anniversary celebrations on hold this year, but their 60th anniversary will be special.
“What an anniversary for us,” he said. “The anniversary present is that she’s alive and still with us.”