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March 2, 2003

Snow. A Funny Photo. And a Father Near Death.

From: Winchester Star, VA - 02 Mar 2003

Herculean Effort Saves Life of Frederick Man

By Kelly Cupp
The Winchester Star

STEPHENS CITY ? What was supposed to be a cute trapped-in-the-snow photo nearly turned into lethal situation for a Frederick County family.

On Feb. 17, after the biggest snowstorm of the year had passed through the area, Buddy Spears, 72, decided he wanted to get a photo of himself in his car, which was basically buried in 21 /2 feet of snow.

Buddy dug out one side of his car and cleaned off a small area of the driver's side window.

He crawled into the car and, because he is deaf, began flashing the sign language wording for "help" from the window in which he was visible.

His daughter-in-law, Laura Spears, snapped a photo of the smiling Buddy "trapped" in his car.

Thinking the fun was over, Laura went inside to fix lunch for the 10 people stuck at her home near Stephens City because of the snow.

Little did Buddy or Laura realize that they were about to embark on a fight for life.


Laura said she was still preparing lunch 20 minutes later when Al Dirnagl, a guest at her home, spotted Buddy slumped over in the car.

"Everyone sort of emptied from the house," Laura said.

Buddy's son and Laura's husband, De Spears, dug the snow away from the car to reach Buddy.

When De finally reached his dad, Buddy was unconscious and no longer breathing.

Laura dialed 911 and brought the phone to De, who remained in the car with his father.

De said he checked to make sure Buddy's heart was still beating, and it was. He then tilted Buddy's head back, and his dad started breathing again.

De said he then decided to tilt the car seat back so Buddy's body would be leaning slightly.

He never let go of his father's head. "I didn't want to pass on the responsibility in case he stopped breathing and I needed to start CPR."

Meanwhile, Laura jumped in her truck to try to meet the Middletown Volunteer Fire and Rescue vehicle that was headed their way.

But a very large obstacle stood between their home and the rescuers ? an almost mile-long dirt driveway covered in 2 feet of snow.


Laura said her truck was soon stuck, as was the ambulance that turned into the driveway.

The people inside the house instantly jumped into action with shovels.

Laura said almost everyone was in shorts and T-shirts because they had just returned inside after playing in the snow before lunch.

So, clad only in warm-weather clothing, Laura, Al, Chris Dirnagl, and six children ? Nicole Dirnagl, Derek Crosen, Michael Hedrick, Nicole Crosen, Chan Cho, and Erika Dirnagl ? began shoveling snow away from the stuck vehicles.

De was still on the phone with 911. He asked the dispatcher to send another ambulance to reach the house using a different route.

The family soon learned that the second rescue vehicle also got stuck in the snow.

Laura said she then heard the sound of a neighbor's front-end loader in the distance.

Knowing that Ed Hockman would help if he could reach them with his machine, Laura and two of the kids set off on foot across the field to reach him.

After the half-mile trek through the thigh-deep snow, they were able to get his attention.

Ed took off through the fields, going through fences and anything else in his way, to reach Buddy.

By this time, another neighbor with a farm tractor, Charlie Bauserman, had reached the Spears home.

Laura said Charlie had tried to plow some of the snow off their driveway a little earlier in the day.

Upon his return, he was able to pull the ambulances and Laura's stuck truck out of the snow and to the house.

While Laura was tracking down Ed, De said, the ambulance crews made it to Buddy.

De said they started to make their initial assessment about his condition.

Ed reached the driveway and started clearing the long lane to U.S. 11.

The ambulances, one of which now contained Buddy, eventually caught up to the front-end loader and followed it out to the highway.

Laura said the ordeal had started at noon. Her father-in-law finally reached the emergency room at Winchester Medical Center at 4:15 p.m.

During that entire time, De never left his father's side.

Two words kept going through his mind, De said: "Not again."

His mother, Joan Spears, had just passed away in August.

Buddy and Joan had owned and operated Spears Upholstery in Winchester for more than 30 years.

Buddy retired after his wife's death and moved in with his son and daughter-in-law.


During the ride to the hospital, De said his father started to wake but was not coherent.

It wasn't until two days and a battery of tests later that the Spearses learned that Buddy had almost died from carbon monoxide poisoning.

De said he hadn't realized that his father had turned on the car while he was in it, because when they found him, the car keys were in Buddy's shirt pocket.

Buddy couldn't explain what had happened. While he was in the hospital, his memory was so clouded that he couldn't remember anything about the incident.

De surmised that his dad had turned on the car for a brief time, just long enough to warm it up, then turned it off again.

Buddy remained inside the vehicle, tinkering with the alpha-numeric pager he uses to talk with other hearing-impaired friends.

At some point he was overcome by the fumes.

Laura said Buddy had a blood level of 17 for carbon monoxide when he was tested at the medical center. A level of 20 is a lethal dose, she said.

A few days later, when De visited his dad in Winchester Medical Center, he drove the car that Buddy had almost died in.

When he first got inside the vehicle, De said, he notice a strange smell.

After arriving at the hospital, doctors tested his blood and found elevated carbon monoxide levels.


Buddy, who has since recovered and returned home, still remembers little about that near-fatal day. He said on Sunday that the only thing he recalls is turning on the car and then trying to exit it.

He said all he had wanted to do was to have his picture taken in the car.

Laura said the family was fortunate to have so many people around that day to help in Buddy's rescue.

"Everybody played a big part in the emergency situation," Laura said. "It was neat how everyone pulled together."

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