By Irene Bowers
They call themselves "The Wild Bunch," and this trio of tenacious, senior ladies lived up to the name.
Seven weeks after their vehicle flipped on south-bound Interstate 81, the ladies drove to Chic's Beach to thank their rescuer .
"We had to do it," said Frances Reynard, 65, whose vehicle was totaled in the wreck. "Wally's our guardian angel."
On the afternoon of May
6, en route to Pigeon Forge, Tenn., with Reynard at the wheel, her sister Evelyn Gant in the passenger seat, and close friend Theda Rose in the back, their Ford Escape lost control on a diesel-fuel slick.oil painting
"We smelled a strong odor and the next thing, we were rolling," said Reynard of Edinburg, Va., an experienced driver used to accompanying her husband on his truck runs.
The vehicle overturned multiple times and Reynard was powerless until it came to rest tipped onto the driver's side.
"I cut off the engine as soon as my hands were free," she said.oil painting
Chic's Beach resident Wally Damon Jr., on his way to collect his son's belongings from Virginia Tech, saw the SUV slide off the road and flip.oil painting
"I changed lanes to get over and help, but then I hit the fuel slick and lost control," he said.
Several hundred heart-stopping feet later, Damon came to a stop . He backed up to where the threesome's overturned vehicle was resting. The car's occupants were wedged on the driver's side.
"Nobody was stopping, and we were hollering for help," said Gant, 67, of Catlett, Va.
"One man had stopped, and he went running past with his cell phone," said Damon, 59, a business manager for Tidewater Carpenter's Union. "I guess he was looking for the mile post to call 911."
The overwhelming smell of fuel was alarming . "I was extremely motivated to get them out, for fear of fire," Damon said.
He climbed in the passenger window and ultimately kicked out the windshield. He then used his pocket knife to cut Gant free of her seatbelt and pulled each one through the windshield.
Reynard, who had lost her cell phone in the wreck, used Damon's to call her daughter before leaving the accident scene by ambulance.
Damon received first-aid at the scene for gashes from the windshield glass then traveled on to meet with his son at Tech. Worried about the women, he used Reynard's daughter's number recorded in his phone to contact them. He learned that the women were treated in Roanoke and released.
Reynard, Gant and Rose recuperated briefly and were on the road again, catching a tour bus to New York City, then heading to Virginia Beach in Reynard's new Ford mont blanc pen Escape.
"We're all widows, and you can't sit around at home, feeling sorry for yourself," said Rose, 76, of Manassas, Va.
They joined Damon, his wife Kathy, son Andrew and daughter Caroline for lunch and a tour of the city.
"You can be sure we'll be back to see him again," Reynard said. "We know the way."