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Ind. crash victim, trapped for days in wreckage, meets rescuers

Matthew Reum was trapped for six days in his truck, subsisting on rainwater

By Amy Lavalley

PORTAGE, Ind. — The last time Nivardo De La Torre and his father-in-law, Mario Garcia, saw Matthew Reum, first responders had just extricated him from his crushed pickup truck along Salt Creek underneath Interstate 94 and were taking him to a waiting helicopter to be transported to Memorial Hospital in South Bend.

De La Torre, 31, of Portage, and Garcia, 60, of Hobart, decided to go fishing on Dec. 26 and stick close to home. That’s when they found Reum, trapped in his pickup truck for six days and subsisting on rainwater, and called 911 to get help.

PREVIOUSLY: Ind. crash victim trapped for nearly a week in wreckage

Monday, at Memorial Hospital in South Bend, the two good Samaritans spent more than two hours catching up in a private meeting with Reum, who a hospital spokesperson said Monday evening has been upgraded to good condition after the partial amputation of his left leg a day after his rescue. Reum, 27, of Mishawaka, is in inpatient rehab at the hospital.

“It’s an emotional thing,” Garcia said Tuesday by phone, adding Reum exchanged hugs and left-handed handshakes — his right hand is bandaged because it was injured in the crash — when they were reunited.

“It was a little overwhelming at first just seeing him do so good,” said De La Torre, also speaking by phone on Tuesday, adding the experience was “nerve-wracking.”

Had De La Torre and Garcia not been walking Salt Creek to go fishing the afternoon of Dec. 26, “this incident more than likely would have had a different outcome,” Sgt Glen Fifield, public information officer for Indiana State Police’s Lowell Post , said in a release after Reum was found.

Garcia and De La Torre were glad they got the chance to meet with Reum under less stressful circumstances at the hospital.

“We just expressed how happy we were to help him out and he was thankful we were there when he desperately needed it,” De La Torre said.

Reum, Garcia said, has undergone “an extreme change” since they last saw him almost two weeks ago and appears to be well taken care of at the hospital.

“I have a feeling he wouldn’t have lasted another night” trapped in his pickup truck, Garcia said, adding Reum was shaking when he and De La Torre found him. The two were surprised to find him alive.

Garcia and De La Torre wanted to meet with Reum, Garcia said, but had to wait until Reum was further recovered from the amputation and his other injuries.

“He’s OK with the situation but no one is happy losing a limb,” Garcia said. “He’s alive and he’s going to be able to be with us for a long time to come.”

Reum, Garcia said, was “in very good spirits” and was thankful for everyone who took part in his rescue, as well as those who have offered support on his GoFundMe page, which had raised more than $100,000 by Tuesday afternoon.

Reum’s recovery is “going to be tough,” Garcia said, adding he and De La Torre discussed that with him.

De La Torre agreed about Reum’s attitude post-surgery, and said Reum wants to move forward.

“It’s a barrier he has to step over in life,” he said.

In a one-minute video posted to his Facebook page Sunday, Reum said he got a shower over the weekend, “which is why my hair looks amazing,” and was learning how to get around.

“I have learned how to walk again and with a walker,” he said. “Right now the most challenging thing for me is going up a stair or a curb and you know, going up a ramp. At 27, I never thought it would be challenging for me to do that but it is.”

In two videos posted Jan. 4 , Reum expressed gratitude to everyone who has helped and supported him since he was found and rescued, and provided an update of his medical condition and his hope to someday soon move into a wheelchair-accessible apartment.

He admitted in the videos the challenges he faces as he recovers from his extensive injuries but, as those who met with him at the hospital can attest, he continues to remain upbeat.

“It’s a new day for us to practice things we’re not good at,” Reum said, tongue in cheek, at the end of his video Sunday.

Reum also met privately on Monday with several members of the Portage Fire Department who came to his aid, according to the hospital, including Portage Fire Chief Chris Crail , Firefighter/Paramedic Michael Durak , Battalion Chief Ross Steffel and Master Firefighter/Paramedic Jordan Bucy .

Crail, who was on the scene the day of the rescue as a battalion chief in the days before he was named fire chief, said he and the other first responders met with Reum for about half an hour.

“I know how some of the guys were really interested in seeing him given how miraculous it was,” Crail said. “We don’t get this level of exposure or closure for a lot of the calls we go on.”

Meeting with Reum, Crail said, was a good experience for everybody.

“For me, it was pretty cool to see how good he was doing after this,” particularly how traumatic Reum’s experience has been, Crail said, adding Reum was appreciative of the effort from the good Samaritans and first responders.

“He was appreciative of his second chance or new lease on life, however you want to put it.”

Reum graduated from an apprenticeship with Boilermaker Local 455 in Tennessee in 2015 and transferred to the Local 374 in Hobart two years ago, Brad Sievers , business manager for Local 374, has said.

Reum was a welder, among many other things, and a “very good asset to his trade,” according to Sievers.

Garcia talked for about half an hour with Reum’s father by phone.

“He was very grateful we found him,” Garcia said.

Reum invited Garcia and De La Torre to go fishing on property owned by his dad, and Garcia invited Reum over for “a big cowboy steak.”

“We want to remain friends,” Garcia said.

Garcia is hopeful someone will take their experience to heart.

“I hope there’s enough humble people out there that if they see someone needs help, they help them,” Garcia said.

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