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Thankful to be alive

November 26, 2004|by JULIE E. GREENE

julieg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. - A small tree prevented a sport utility vehicle from going over an approximately 200-foot cliff Thursday, saving a Martinsburg man's life, West Virginia State Police Trooper Fred Edwards with the Martinsburg barrack said.

"I never thought I'd appreciate a little tree so much," said Randy Strakal, 45, in a telephone interview a little more than two hours after the accident.

Strakal was driving south on Whitings Neck Road northeast of Martinsburg around 1 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day when his blue 2004 Ford Expedition crested a hill and he saw a car coming up the other side of the hill on the narrow road, Strakal and Edwards said.

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Strakal swerved right to miss the car and went off the road, toward the cliff near the Potomac River, Strakal and Edwards said.

There was no guardrail along that area, Edwards said. While the road has two lanes, it is only about 15 feet wide, he said.

"If the tree wasn't there, I was going to think he was going to go down the other side of the cliff into the Potomac," Edwards said.

Strakal said if the truck had been another two feet to the right, he would have missed the tree and gone over the cliff into the river. When the tree stopped the Expedition, the front right wheel was hanging over the edge of the cliff, he said.

"Everybody keeps saying, the police and everybody that comes by says, 'God was riding with you today,'" Strakal said.

Edwards described the tree as "real thin" and about the thickness of a person's calf.

Strakal said the tree was approximately 6 inches wide.

The front of the Expedition was smashed, Edwards said.

Strakal said the sport utility vehicle, which he has had for three weeks, might be totaled.

Strakal, who owns Rycon Construction Inc. in Sterling, Va., said he had been building a house, for personal use, in the area. On Thursday, he and four friends hung drywall and he was on his way to a hotel to get his friends two rooms so they could stay for the weekend.

The plan was then to go home to Martinsburg to clean up before heading to his in-laws for Thanksgiving dinner, Strakal said.

"I feel lucky," he said.

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