PORTAGE, Ind. (CBS) — Two men out looking for fishing holes in Northwest Indiana came across a driver whose truck had crashed off Interstate 94 – and who said he had been stuck for nearly a week.
As CBS 2’s Marybel González reported, everything about the rescue Tuesday afternoon was almost unbelievable. But officials credited a man and his son-in-law, who had just happened to be out looking for a place to go fishing, with saving the truck driver’s life.
Indiana State Police Sgt. Glen Fifield said that at 3:45 p.m., the Porter County Dispatch Center received a report of a crash on I-94 at mile marker 19 – one mile east of the Portage exit.
Two local fishermen had been scouting out Salt Creek for potential fishing holes when they came across a mangled truck that was under the I-94 bridge and partially in the creek.
Out of curiosity, the fishermen looked into the truck and saw a man inside. One of the fishermen touched the man, thinking he was dead, Fifield said.
But he was alive – and he turned and started talking, Fifield said. He told the fishermen he had crashed days earlier, and could not reach his cellphone to call for help.
Medics from the Portage and Burns Harbor fire departments spent a great deal of time getting the driver out of the vehicle, during which the westbound lanes of I-94 were closed, Fifield said.
The driver had suffered severe and potentially life-threatening injuries, Fifield said. He was taken to Memorial Hospital in South Bend.
Indiana State Police said later that he was identified as Matthew Reum, 27, of Mishawaka, Indiana, and a family member had been notified.
State police said that, “During their extrication efforts, it was determined that the crash had more than likely occurred sometime around December 20th,” adding that the truck was a 2016 Dodge Ram that “left the roadway for unknown reasons.”
The man had been driving the truck west on I-94 and missed the guardrail that runs just to the east, Fifield said. The truck went down the grass shoulder, went airborne, ended up in the creek, and rolled several times, Fifield said.
It ended up going across the creek – which measures 30 feet wide – and rolled under the I-94 bridge, Fifield said.
“Had it not been for the two individuals that were walking the creek this afternoon,” state police said, “this incident more than likely would have had a different outcome. There had not been any prior reports of a crash in this area prior to the fishermen finding the vehicle.”
“Quite frankly, it’s a miracle that he’s alive in this weather. We’ve been lucky enough during this Christmas season – our temperatures, as you know, are above normal,” said Fifield. “So that was working in this individual’s favor.”
State police said, “The will to survive this crash was nothing short of extraordinary as it was also determined that Mr. Reum was able to drink rain water for hydration in order to survive for such a long period of time while being exposed to the elements.”
The two fishermen who found the truck driver joined Fifield at a news conference Tuesday evening. They said they were finding their way to the fishing hole when they found the mangled vehicle that was barely recognizable as a truck.
One of the fishermen, Mario Garcia, said he moved the white airbag in the cab of the truck and went to touch what he thought was the driver’s dead body. But the driver turned around, and began speaking.
“It almost killed me there, because it was kind of shocking,” said Garcia, “but he was alive, and he was very happy to see us. Like he was really like, I’ve never seen a relief like that.”
The truck driver said he had been trapped in the truck since Wednesday of last week – and had survived six days without food.
“He said he tried yelling and screaming, but nobody would hear him,” Garcia said. “It was just the quiet sound of the water.”
The truck driver did not say anything about how he survived – but Garcia noted that there was no way the driver could move.
“He had to survive to survive on his youth… and God’s help there,” Garcia said.
Garcia and Delatorre called for help. It got there quickly, but the rescue took a while.
“They had a very difficult time getting down into the creek area with their equipment to basically cut him out and remove him from the vehicle,” said Fifield.
Garcia also noted that the terrain along the creek is all riprap and boulders – and he was worried one of the first responders might get hurt trying to rescue the truck driver.
Garcia noted that the site where he and his son-in-law, Nivardo Delatorre, found the truck was the last site they were considering choosing to look for a fishing hole. They had decided on something of a whim to go fishing that day, as their wives were both busy.
“Nobody normally fishes around this time, but we decided to go anyway,” said Garcia.
“It wasn’t planned,” said Delatorre. “You know, were just out there scouting, and we came upon this situation.”
Fifield also noted that they found the truck at 3:45 p.m. – and had the fishermen arrived half an hour later, it would have been dark out and they would not have been able to see the wrecked truck.
Garcia and Delatorre almost missed the vehicle too.
“I don’t know of any way that anybody could’ve seen him,” said Garcia. “It was just very fortunate that we saw the cracks in the woods the shiny of the wreck – and curiosity that took us over there.”
The fishermen said they were very glad they came across the man when they did.
“It’s cold tonight and I don’t believe he would’ve made it through the night tonight,” said Fifield. “That’s my personal opinion.”
“He said to me that he’s been there for a long time; that he had almost lost all hope – because nobody was there,” said Garcia, “and one more day, and something would have been different here.
CBS 2 Chief Meteorologist Albert Ramon reported if conditions had been colder or snowier, this story might not have had the ending it did.
Other than last Wednesday morning, when we had a temperature of 30 degrees, temperatures have been consistently above freezing in Portage, Indiana throughout the past week. On Christmas Day Wednesday, the low in Portage was 50, the high a most unseasonable 59.
Had the rain been heavier in the area on Friday and Monday, there also could have been a flash flood, Ramon reported. The rain in the area totaled 0.94 inch.
Investigators late Tuesday were still trying to figure out what led to the crash – and have not released the driver’s identity.
They have no reports of the accident or a missing person.
As far as the two Good Samaritans, they prefer not to be called heroes. They say they were just there at the right place and the right time.