Nov 302004
Authors: Jake Blumberg

The State of Colorado Accident Report described the car accident as "extreme," the highest rating any accident can receive.

On Nov. 2, on Highway 6 mile marker 264, a car hit a patch of ice, careened down a 75-foot embankment, rolled one and a half times and came to rest on its roof in the middle of a mountain river. Seventy-eight-year-old Lola Counce, the driver of the vehicle, was ejected from the car, left hanging on a cliff located 5 feet from the road, badly injured. Frank Counce, her 79-year-old husband, was trapped inside the car, upside down in knee-high water.

Two cars passed by the accident, slowing but not stopping to help the couple. The third car did stop, and from inside of it the Counces' hero emerged.

Sean Abbey, a freshman open-option major, ran to the cliff edge, found Lola and pulled her to safety on the roadside.

"I asked her if she was OK, what was hurting her and I heard her mumble, 'My poor husband.' That's when I looked down into the riverbed, and I saw the car, on its roof in the water," Abbey said. "I didn't even think about it; the next thing I knew, I was running down the embankment to go help him."

Abbey's friend and traveling companion that day, Shawn Kazmierczak, a freshman biology major at University of Colorado-Boulder, stayed on the top of the hill to help Lola.

"Sean (Abbey) just took off. Before I even knew what was happening, he was sprinting down the hill. It was insane. The hill was so steep," Kazmierczak said. "Once he got down there, he just started into the river."

Wading into frigid water that at points was as high as his waist, Abbey finally reached the car.

"I looked inside the car, and there was this old man hanging by his seatbelt, his face barely above water. He was covered in blood, but still conscious. I asked if he was OK, asked if he could get out of the car. He kind of mumbled to me that he was stuck in the seatbelt and he couldn't move," Abbey said. "At this point, I still can't remember exactly what happened; I was just moving without thinking. I picked up a shard of glass, went under water and cut his seat belt, careful to catch him when I finally cut him lose. He was limp in my arms, still awake, but in really bad shape. I put him on my shoulder, and carried him across the river."

At that point, Abbey called for his friend to come help him. Kazmierczak made it down the hill and helped Abbey get Frank all the way across the river.

"I was in the water for about 25 minutes, and my body was completely numb. I was beginning to feel the effects of hypothermia, and I knew that in just a few minutes I was going to run out of strength," Abbey said. "At that point, a female state trooper appeared on top of the embankment and tossed me a rope to help me get up the hill. Shawn was really cold, he wasn't wearing enough clothes for the cold weather, and he couldn't do much to help me. I decided I had to go for it right then. I grabbed the rope and began climbing the hill as quickly as I could. I made it about halfway up before I had to stop. I was out of energy. I hung there, on the side of the cliff, holding on to the man, and I just kept telling him that he would be OK, kept talking to him to keep him awake."

As Abbey hung on to the rope, holding on for Frank's and life and his own, the minutes ticked by until the emergency crews finally arrived, along with the "Flight for Life" helicopter. The paramedics climbed down and secured Frank into a neck brace, lifting his body out of Abbey's frozen arms.

"They helped me up, and I went to an ambulance where they wrapped me in blankets and began to warm me up; the hypothermia had really set in at that point," Abbey said. "My clothes were soaked with water and blood. I am just so happy I was there to help them."

Both Lola and Frank were taken to the hospital, where they were treated for multiple injuries, Abbey said. Neither were able to be reached for the article.

"There are normally people at an accident that have their heart in the right place, trying to help," said Trooper Eric Wynn, public information officer for the Colorado State Patrol. "Sometimes they can, sometimes they can't. That's why we have the Good Samaritan Law, to protect all those people who want to help out those people who are in danger, protecting them from liability if they hurt a person while trying to save them. It allows for people to help other people, without being afraid of legal repercussions."

In Abbey's case, he said he did not think about anything like legal repercussions, or even his own safety; he just acted, and by doing so saved a life that may have perished without him.

"Sean was a real hero that day," Kazmierczak said. "He didn't think about his own life at all. He just knew he had to save that man. Without Sean, I don't think (Frank) would have made it. Sean was not just a hero that day, but a superhero … it was Superman stuff he did."

 Posted by at 5:00 pm

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