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Mother's book thanks rescuer

February 24, 2001

Mother's book thanks rescuer



By ANDREW SCHOTZ / Staff Writer


When he saw the car that slammed into the cement culvert, Todd Smith thought the passenger inside was dead. She was staring blankly through the windshield while he stood next to her door.

Smith was relieved when he saw a cloud of breath come out of Toni Tracey. He climbed through the driver's door to get her out.

It was March 1, 1980. They were both 19.

Smith was a volunteer with Boonsboro Ambulance and Rescue Services Inc. He had been an emergency medical technician for less than a year.

Tracey and her then-boyfriend, Rob Wetzel, were on their way to Dunkin' Donuts in Hagerstown after a party at the American Legion in Funkstown. Wetzel, the driver, fell asleep, probably from carbon monoxide fumes leaking up through the floorboard.

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After the car crashed on Md. 67 at Reno Monument Road, Wetzel went to call for help. Tracey was in the car, moaning.

Smith was the first rescuer to spot Tracey, his friend and former classmate from Boonsboro High School.

More than 20 years after Todd Smith helped Toni Tracey survive that cold winter night with a bevy of broken bones, their story is in a book written by Toni's mother, Betty Lou Breeden.

Breeden started out taking notes about medical treatment Toni would need. It evolved into a journal. She tried unsuccessfully about 15 years ago to have it published.

About a month ago, Breeden decided to publish it herself. She spent more than $2,000 to have 500 copies printed, and showed her daughter a copy on Valentine's Day.

Saturday night, at Boonsboro's annual awards banquet at the Ramada Inn in Hagerstown, Breeden announced that all proceeds from the book will go to the ambulance company. She received a standing ovation.

The books are not for sale; they can be obtained by making a donation, Breeden said.

It wasn't until Smith wrote a moving letter to Toni Tracey - now Toni Wetzel, after marrying Rob - that Breeden renewed her interest in printing her book.

With Smith's permission, Breeden used his letter at the end of the book.

Smith called Breeden's gesture to donate the proceeds of her book "mind-blowing."

"Very seldom in this service do you ever have anyone who comes back and says 'thank you,' " he said.

Breeden called the 104-page book "The Positive Proof," referring to God's guiding influence.

She hopes it will comfort others as inspirational books did during Toni's ordeal.

"You can survive through it or you really can live through it," Breeden said.

Most of what Toni Wetzel knows about the crash is what she was told.

But she knows how badly she was hurt. She broke both legs in many places. Her spleen ruptured and had to be removed. Her heart was bruised.

At some point, her left hip will have to be replaced, and possibly her ankles. She still has a slight limp.

She considered Smith a very good friend throughout school and beyond.

"He always felt like a big brother to me," she said.

However, she didn't know Smith felt the same about her until his emotional letter. As she read it, "I cried and cried," Wetzel said.

Smith hesitated to write it at first, afraid he would needlessly dredge up harrowing feelings. But in November, just after Toni Wetzel turned 40, he did it.

"I didn't hold back," he said. "I started writing and it just came right out."

He still remembers Toni being helped onto a police helicopter before she was flown to the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center.

"Todd, don't let me die," she pleaded.

Smith believes the help he gave Toni Wetzel that night was enormously important for himself, too. It's the call that has motivated him to stick with emergency services for 25 years.

He's now a professional firefighter and paramedic in Baltimore County and part-time paramedic for Boonsboro, and he volunteers with the fire department.

"He felt like I entrusted my whole life to him," Wetzel said. "It helped him mature."

"How many people can say at 19 they've been through that?" Smith wondered. "They've beat the Reaper?"

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