Margaret Hollingsworth was on her way to Vernon to help a friend.
She ended up getting help herself from two Cherryville strangers.
Hollingsworth, a 77-year-old mother of eight daughters, grandmother to 25 and great-grandmother to 30, was painting and fixing her Nakusp home with her husband on March 1. The couple plan on putting their home on the market.
Hollingsworth decided she had enough of the renos and was going to go for a drive to Vernon to visit a friend going through some personal issues.
At 9:30 p.m., on Highway 6 just past Northfolk Road in Cherryville, as she drove her 1988 Oldsmobile toward Vernon, Hollingsworth ended up in a ditch.
“I wasn’t driving too fast, I was taking my time and the road was good. I was following a U-Haul, so I had lots of light but something startled me, I don’t know what,” said Hollingsworth. “I looked up and all I could see was flames and a tree. I had hit a tree and the car was on fire.”
Hollingsworth tried to get out of the car herself. She unlocked the doors but she said they wouldn’t open.
Dan Balcaen, 57, was returning home to Cherryville having helped his fiancée, Diane Meda, pick out a new 2013 spruce mica (dark green) Toyota Matrix. Meda and her son, Kevin Meda, 35, had been following Balcaen in the Matrix.
“We had just gone past Northfolk Road, we came around a corner, went up the hill, and saw a car down the bank on fire and somebody trying to open the doors. I didn’t know it was Dan,” said Diane Meda. “I pulled over and told my son to get out and go help that person.”
As Kevin arrived, Dan was assuring Hollingsworth that everything was going to be fine.
“He was talking to me all the time, saying, ‘Ma’am you are not dying in this car, we’ll get you out of there, hang in there,’” said Hollingsworth. “They got the top of the door and they ripped it off.”
Diane Meda had parked her new Matrix, put her flashers on and flagged down a passing vehicle that had a bunch of people in it. Meda believes they were on their way to a skidoo cabin in the Monashees. One of the women in the car had first aid training.
Dan Balcaen and Kevin Meda brought Hollingsworth up the bank to the side of the highway, where the unidentified woman began tending to her.
The men noticed Hollingsworth was having trouble breathing, so Kevin Meda ran to a friend’s nearby home and borrowed an asthmatic puffer.
With no cellular service in the area, Balcaen raced to a landline phone and called an ambulance.
Hollingsworth was taken to Vernon Jubilee Hospital with a severe laceration and breathing difficulties. She did not, however, receive any burns.
“They saved my life,” said Hollingsworth, through tears, of Balcaen and Kevin Meda. “What more valuable thing could a person do? They saved my life. Isn’t that something?”
Diane Meda had left the scene before the ambulance arrive, gone to get help from friends and neighbours to put out the car fire (Cherryville has no fire protection service). The flames had spread to some neighbouring trees, as well.
Diane Meda was relieved to hear that Hollingsworth was recovering, thanks to the efforts of her family and the first aid treatment before ambulance personnel arrived.
“I feel really wonderful and I’m glad she’s doing well,” said Diane Meda. “I was really scared for awhile.”
Lumby RCMP Cpl. Henry Proce praised the efforts of the Medas and Balcaen.
“They undoubtedly saved the driver’s life by removing her from the vehicle in the nick of time,” said Proce.
While she hasn’t yet met the men who saved her life, Hollingsworth has added that to her spring “to-do” list.
“I am definitely going to see them,” she said. “I do want to get together with them, by all means.”
What started the fire in the Oldsmobile is still under investigation.