Breanna Walker experienced a lot of firsts Tuesday morning.
Her first car accident. Her first ambulance ride. Her first hospital stay. Her first broken bone. Her first surgery.
Fortunately for Walker, a 20-year-old from Doylestown, she also encountered her first angels. Three of them. The living, breathing kind.
Within minutes of losing control of her Mazda on a rain-slicked U.S. 224 and ending up smacked into some trees at the base of a hill, three men appeared outside her car window. They held her head. Called her mom. Reminded her to breathe. And coaxed her into staying still when every part of her wanted to flee the crushed car.
Before the faces appeared, Walker was dazed, trying to understand what had happened and where she was.
She remembered taking her eyes off the road — “I wasn’t texting,” she clarified quickly — then looking up to see she was too close to another car. She swerved and found herself barreling down a slope off the side of the road.
Walker believes she was knocked out for a moment, and when she came to, one of the first things she noticed was her engine lying on the hillside, away from her car.
“I started to freak out,” she said from her hospital bed at Summa Akron City Hospital. “I kept thinking of the movies and how leaking gas [causes cars to explode], and I tried to get out of the car, but I couldn’t get out. I tried to calm down and look for my phone, but it wasn’t there.”
She then noticed the cut on her leg, so deep and wide she could see the bone.
“Then a man was there,” she said. He said he was a firefighter and told her not to move. He held her head still in case she had damaged her spine and spoke in soothing tones.
“He said, ‘I’m here to help’ and he said, ‘Just look at me and breathe,’ ” she recalled.
Then a second man appeared. Walker gave him her mom’s phone number. The man called her mom before rescue crews had even arrived and told her what had happened and that her daughter was not alone — that there were three people looking after her.
A third man was there, too, trying (unsuccessfully) to find a way into the car’s back seat so Walker wouldn’t be in the car alone. Later, after Walker had been taken into surgery, he showed up at the hospital with a bouquet of multicolored daisies and told her family to make sure she got them.
Walker didn’t know their names. After the chaos and fear dissipated, all that was left were some images. The man who held her head steady was African-American. The man who called 911 seemed young. The man who called her mom spoke reassuringly.
They were complete strangers, “but it helped me a lot to have them there,” Walker said.
The identity of the first man, the off-duty firefighter, remains a mystery. Apparently no one got his name — not the Summit County Sheriff’s Office, Akron police or Coventry paramedics who attended to Walker.
The other two men are Tony Guillot and Jeff Witzberger, who work for the engineering firm URS Corp. It was just before 10:30 a.m., and they were on their way back to their White Pond Drive office after a morning of collecting water samples in Springfield Township.
They had just passed the I-77 turn-off “when we saw the car to the side. It looked like it might have rolled a couple of times, it was so banged up,” Guillot said.
He and Witzberger joined the firefighter, who already was standing at the side of the car.
“Her head was hanging out of the window and he was holding it,” Guillot said. “She was pretty beat up, but she was conscious.”
“I couldn’t believe she was alive,” Witzberger said. “That car was a mess. There wasn’t really much left of it.”
After a couple of attempts, Walker was able to recall her mom’s phone number. Guillot dialed it on his cellphone but the firefighter suggested they not give the phone to Walker. He didn’t want her to get excited and move.
“So I told her that her daughter was in a car accident and that we were with her. I said, ‘We’re doing our best to comfort your daughter.’ ” Guillot said.
He said Walker is about his own daughter’s age. He kept thinking of that, and how he would want someone to treat his daughter in such a circumstance.
A couple of minutes later, the sirens announced the arrival of police and fire personnel. They immediately set about cutting the passenger door, freeing Walker from the car, stabilizing her and whisking her off to the hospital.
“I was just amazed at how fast [they] responded to the scene and how well they worked together to cut her out of that car,” Witzberger said. “I’ve never seen anything like that done. It was amazing.”
Walker had surgery to put screws in her shattered knee and had the lacerations on her leg stitched. She’s bruised from the seat belt and has a sprained ankle, too, she said.
Walker has been told she probably won’t be able to return to her job as a hostess for P.F. Chang’s China Bistro at Summit Mall for about eight weeks — though her bosses say if she wants to return early, they’ll find something for her to do sitting down.
Now that she’s recovering, she said her biggest worry is her car: “Now I don’t have one.”
Her mom, Deanna Walker, said she was so thankful that people stopped to help her daughter. She talked to Guillot on the phone a couple of times, and met Witzberger when he dropped off the flowers at the hospital.
“But I really wish I knew the name of the third gentleman, who held her head. I’d want to say thank you,” Walker said. “I was just really grateful they stopped.”