Land O’ Lakes family’s deeds way beyond average
By Kyle LoJacono
On July 26, 2011, Land O’ Lakes teenager Tiffany Reinhardt saved Lutz resident Michael Simmerman from a burning vehicle following an accident on a country road.
Less than six months later her stepfather Forest Lawrence showed where Reinhardt picked up her bravery and compassion by helping Robert Detwiler and Kelly Ponte survive a motorcycle crash on Ehren Cutoff.
Lawrence was driving southbound on Ehren in Land O’ Lakes at 10:47 a.m. on Dec. 30 when a group of sandhill cranes walked onto the winding roadway.
The passing birds forced the vehicle in front of him to stop fast and Lawrence had to pull off the road to avoid an accident. A man driving a truck did the same on the northbound side of Ehren, but Detwiler, who was driving the motorcycle, was unable to break in time.
“When I saw that motorcycle hit that truck and the guy fly through the air, I didn’t take a second to think,” said Lawrence, who called the police as he ran toward the accident. “I set the parking break, jumped out of the truck and was gone over there. I saw that the lady was mostly OK, so I went over to the guy.
“He was passed out at first, but then he started moaning and groaning and trying to get up,” Lawrence continued. “I remembered what happened when my wife’s brother died in a motorcycle accident. He made it to the hospital and the only reason he did was because there was a nurse at the scene who turned him on his side and kept him still. That’s what I did and he seemed to be doing better when the fire trucks got there. Then I left.”
When Reinhardt saved Simmerman last year she was the only person to act and the story was the same with Lawrence.
“I just felt so bad for them because nobody else would get out of their vehicles to go over to them,” Lawrence said. “I saw the guy fly through the air and everybody else wanted to keep four feet back. … He looked bad. He had blood coming out of his mouth. It’s hard to talk about because it was really brutal to see a person get thrown into the air and slam onto the asphalt. Just seeing him flail around, it was like the body was coming to, but his brain wasn’t yet.”
Detwiler and Ponte, who live in Palm Harbor, were taken to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tampa, according to a Florida Highway Patrol report. Ponte was treated for minor cuts and bruises, while Detwiler suffered an apparent concussion. Both were released last week.
Reinhardt was amazed something so similar happened to Lawrence soon after her experience last year, but said the details did not stun her.
“I was surprised that it happened again like that, but I wasn’t surprised because my dad is always helping people,” Reinhardt said. She then added, “He’s like my dad, so it made me really proud to hear he did that.”
When Reinhardt helped Simmerman he was trapped in an overturned car that was on fire. She wasn’t scared about the possibility of the vehicle exploding as the flames neared the gas tank but said what Lawrence did was much more astonishing than her actions.
“We kind of compared what happened to the both of us,” Reinhardt said. “His was kind of more intense than mine was. … I don’t think mine was more intense because that guy flew through the air and was unconscious. I don’t think I would have been able to deal with that part.”
Lawrence did warn people to be wary of the cranes so they don’t end up in an accident themselves.
“They’re this protected bird, but they’re what caused that whole thing,” Lawrence said. “If you go down Ehren Cutoff you can see the rubber on the road, and it’s not from kids racing at night. It’s from people slamming on their brakes because of those birds.
“I don’t want anyone to think I did something special because I think anyone should do what I did,” Lawrence continued. “That’s how we raised our kids to be and that’s what me and my wife would do if we saw someone in trouble. I just want people to be aware about these birds so someone doesn’t get killed. Something has to be done to move them or something because it’s dangerous.”
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