Wyatt Smydra was in exactly the right place at the right time Sunday evening.
At least where Jodi Schnebel was concerned.
That’s because Schnebel was involved in a head-on collision when an eastbound pickup crossed the center line and hit her westbound SUV on West Omaha Avenue, outside of Norfolk.
Smydra, a 17-year-old senior at Norfolk Catholic who is the son of Tara and Dennis Smydra, just happened to be driving behind the pickup, headed toward a powder-puff football game at the school from his home outside of Battle Creek.
“I called 911 right away, and then I got out of my car and went over to where it happened. The SUV was the first car, the one closest to me, so that’s where I went,” Smydra said.
The SUV had rolled over onto the passenger side, and Smydra could hear Schnebel screaming for help. She was hanging by her seatbelt, and her driver’s side door had been completely collapsed in.
“She was stuck in her seatbelt and couldn’t get it off. I went to my car, and luckily I had a seatbelt cutter. I came back and cut her two seatbelts and got her out,” Smydra said.
He helped to pull Schnebel out through her window — which wasn’t easy — and get her on top of her vehicle, all the while keeping an eye on a small fire taking hold in the engine compartment.
“I knew there was another person in the pickup, but I hadn’t even gone over there yet. There were a couple of people who pulled up and came over, so I told them to go check on the pickup,” Smydra said.
He was concerned with getting Schnebel away from her SUV and onto the road, because he knew that “the car was a ticking time bomb because it was on fire. I didn’t want any explosion to reach her, so I had to get her out of the way,” Smydra said.
By the time emergency personnel showed up, Smydra said the SUV was fully engulfed in flames.
“(Schnebel) got pretty lucky, because this could have been a lot worse than it actually was with it being a head-on wreck and both (drivers) going 55. Her seatbelt saved her,” Smydra said.
The other driver involved in the accident, Jesse Zobrist, did have to be transported by medical helicopter for his injuries.
Madison County Sheriff Todd Volk said deputies on scene reported the actions of Smydra were nothing short of heroic and kept Schnebel from sustaining severe burns or worse.
For his part, Smydra said he didn’t really think about what he was doing until after the fact.
“It just kind of happened — instincts kicked in. I was doing what had to be done and I was in a position where I didn’t have any other choice. If you have the stuff, you can’t just not do something,” Smydra said.
That stuff — a seatbelt cutting tool with a hammer to break out windows — was a gift from Smydra’s mother after he bought his truck a couple of years ago.
“I thought, ‘I’m never going to use this.’ I’m just lucky to have had it and to be there at the right time. ... It’s crazy thinking about the timing. If I would have waited two minutes to leave my house, everything could have been different,” Smydra said.
He stressed the importance of all drivers having something to cut a seatbelt in their vehicle.
“I have heard a lot of stories now about people not having something to cut. I just had someone tell me their daughter was in an accident, and her friend couldn’t get out of her seatbelt, and she ended up dying. It’s not just for the safety of others. If you’re in that situation, you could do something for yourself, too.”