Fishermen locate wrecked truck under bridge, driver still alive and officials call it a ‘miracle’

Dec 27, 2023, 10:59 AM

A man spent days trapped in wreckage before being discovered Tuesday under a bridge of Interstate 9...

A man spent days trapped in wreckage before being discovered Tuesday under a bridge of Interstate 94 in Indiana's Porter County, authorities say. (Indiana State Police)

(Indiana State Police)

(CNN) — The two men had gone out the day after Christmas, scouting for fishing holes at a creek in northwest Indiana, when something shiny in the distance caught their attention.

Mario Garcia and his son-in-law Nivardo Delatorre had been ready to call it a day. But curiosity took hold. They went to check it out.

Closer and closer they walked Tuesday toward the shiny thing, there under the Interstate 94 bridge, Garcia later would recall. Then, it finally took shape: A mangled truck.

The fishermen got even closer – right up to the driver’s door, the father-in-law said. Sticking his hand inside the cabin, Garcia moved an airbag out of the way to reveal something he and Nivardo Delatorre hadn’t been able to see at all from back at Salt Creek: somebody in the driver’s seat.

The person, Garcia assumed, was dead.

Then, he touched the man’s shoulder.

“He swung around,” Garcia said. “He woke up.”

Startled, Garcia asked his son-in-law to dial for help.

Soon, the pair of fishermen would be part of a rescue mission nearly a week in the making. It was something the pinned driver had begun to think nearly impossible – and an effort destined to be described in the end by one veteran public servant with a watchword of this magical season: “miracle.”

‘Nothing short of extraordinary’

The man in the crushed truck – Matthew R. Reum, 27, of Mishawaka, Indiana – told the fishermen he had been trapped there, tightly pinned in his seat under the bridge near Portage, since the prior Wednesday, Dec. 20, Garcia recalled later at a news conference held by state police.

And he couldn’t reach his phone.

“He tried yelling and screaming, but nobody would hear him,” Garcia recalled the man telling him. “It was just quiet – just the sound of the water.”

Though all alone and locked in place, the driver managed to survive the six-day ordeal in part by drinking rainwater, state police said in a news release.

“The will to survive this crash was nothing short of extraordinary,” police said.

Temperatures in Porter County had reached a low of 29 degrees in recent days.

“It’s a miracle that he’s alive in this weather,” Indiana State Police Sgt. Glen Fifield said at the news conference, adding Reum might have been stuck for a week and suffered some “severe, potentially life-threatening injuries.”

Still, by the time Garcia and Delatorre found him, Reum “had almost lost all hope because nobody was there,” Garcia said the driver told him.

While they waited for professional rescuers, Reum thanked the men repeatedly, Garcia recalled: “He was alive and he was very happy to see us.”

“I’ve never seen relief like that.”

When the emergency crews arrived, it was difficult to get equipment to the wreckage site, Fifield said. And I-94’s westbound lanes at mile marker 20 had to be closed Tuesday afternoon as crews worked to free the driver and get him to a helicopter.

Hours later Tuesday, Reum finally got to a hospital, police said.

But it’s still not clear what caused the crash.

‘I don’t believe he would’ve made it’

It appears the man’s truck ran off I-94, missed the guardrail, went airborne, rolled down into the creek and came to rest under the bridge.

But police got no reports of a crash, they said, and even if they had, the wreckage couldn’t be seen from the bridge.

“I looked over that bridge, and you can’t see it,” Fifield said. “I walked down on the east side of the terrain, and I am looking and I still couldn’t see it.”

Had the fishermen not found him when they did, the man may not have made it, Fifield said.

“It’s cold tonight,” the sergeant said Tuesday. “I don’t believe he would’ve made it through the night tonight, that’s my personal opinion.”

For their part, Garcia and his son-in-law felt fortunate for their curiosity, the elder said – the force that had pushed them toward the truck when they’d been ready to pack it in.

“Is it a miracle? I don’t know,” Garcia said. “But I’m just glad that that we were able to find him.”

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Fishermen locate wrecked truck under bridge, driver still alive and officials call it a ‘miracle’