Andrew Dys

Stranded, miles from home -- and saved by a 'saint'

Sandra Smith is a 59-year-old wife, mother and grandmother, retired, who drives a 9-year-old Chevy Blazer with 183,000 miles on it.

The SUV picked 3:30 on a brutally hot Friday afternoon as the time to boil over, on bustling S.C. 277 in Columbia, after a visit with Smith's brother in the hospital. She got off the first exit she spied, Farrow Road, as the smoke and steam billowed.

Smith knows nothing about the Farrow Road neighborhood other than what she saw, and "it looks like it is not the greatest." She stopped the truck, got out and sat on the sidewalk in the hot sun.

"A man walked right up behind me with something in a brown paper bag, and he was staggering," Smith said.

A couple parked a car nearby, a few feet away, and walked off without a word. A cop passed without so much as a wave -- as an older lady, all alone, sat next to her SUV.

Sandra Smith worked as a draftsman, a barber and a waitress all her life. Tips meant the bills got paid. She tried to treat all people right, black and white, and she taught her family the same. But that changes nothing when her SUV is broken down in a strange neighborhood and she is 70-plus miles from home.

"I was scared," Sandra said. "I was sticking out like a sore thumb."

She had no AAA or other service, but she did have a cell phone. She called her husband, Jack, here in Rock Hill.

"I'm homebound, I can't go help her," Jack Smith said. "I called people I knew but couldn't get anybody. I was at a loss."

Sandra sat on the sidewalk and hoped.

A guy came out of a house across the street. He wore a tank-top shirt that showed a scar on his chest that looked like a rusty zipper on a leather jacket. The guy yelled first, the traffic drowned out his words, then he ran across the street. He was black.

"Forty-ish, about 5 foot 7," Sandra said.

The guy looked at Sandra and said, to the best of her recollection, "I noticed you by yourself. I think you'd be safer across the street at my house, on my steps."

The guy said to pull her SUV into his driveway, and he could fix it.

"I was nervous. He could tell I was nervous," Sandra said.

But she was alone, and her car was hissing. She gulped and believed in what she had lived in her life.

She got the Blazer across the street quickly -- the man stopped traffic himself -- and the man went inside his house. He came out with a kitchen chair.

"Sit down, stay cool here in the shade," she remembers the man saying.

He flushed the radiator and refilled it as he told Sandra the scar on his chest was from a stab wound -- yes, a knife, and it surely had a blade big as a machete judging from that scar -- and the surgery afterward. He mentioned a landlord who was giving him trouble and an unpaid light bill that loomed. He gave her a big jug of water to put in the car afterward if she needed it. The car cranked and ran without overheating.

"I gave him $20, all the cash I had," Sandra said. "He didn't ask. He didn't want to take it. I insisted."

Sandra drove off -- the guy blocked traffic again to let her out -- and she made it home to Rock Hill.

Jack Smith said he is not "overly religious," but something was looking out for his wife that day.

"That guy, that fella, he was willing to come out, didn't matter to him that he was black and my wife wasn't," Jack Smith said. "He helped a lady, and that lady is my wife, and I am one grateful man here today."

Sandra told a couple friends, some family.

"He saved me," she said of that man in Columbia.

Maybe Sandra's life of good deeds was repaid Friday afternoon. Or was it a black man with a knife scar across his chest like a tattoo who saw a white lady in distress and acted while the black and white world zoomed by without lending a hand?

Sandra never asked that man his name.

"He didn't offer his name; I didn't want to pry," she said. "Figured if he wanted me to know his name, he would say so."

All she knows is that man renewed her faith in the human spirit, a spirit that has no color, or all colors, on a hot day where she was alone and stranded.

"I prayed about it afterward, about what his name might be," Sandra said. "I bet his name is John or Paul or Mark or Luke. One of the saints. He sure was a saint to me."