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Accidental reunion: 21 years after North Shore crash, woman meets her rescuer

While standing along along Highway 61 near Schroeder, Minn., Judith Hazen and Marc Davey try to work out exactly where Hazen's car rolled in an accident that occurred on May 15, 1996. Davey came to Hazen's rescue and pulled her from the car to keep her safe. The two reunited in Tofte on Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017, more than 21 years later. Bob King / Forum News Service1 / 5
Judith Hazen of St. Paul and Marc Davey of Silver Bay, Minn., give each other a big hug on Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017, when they meet again for the first time since May 1996, when Davey rescued Hazen after she crashed her car near Schroeder. Bob King / Forum News Service2 / 5
This is the 1988 Mercury Grand Marquis that was totaled when Judith Hazen crashed it along a sharp curve near Schroeder, Minn., on Highway 61 in May 1996. Bob King / Forum News Service3 / 5
Judith Hazen and Marc Davey share family photos as they catch up with how the other's doing during a reunion lunch in Tofte, Minn., on Tuesday afternoon, Aug. 29, 2017. Davey rescued Hazen in May 1996 when she was trapped in her car after crashing along Highway 61 near Schroeder. Bob King / Forum News Service4 / 5
Judith Hazen of St. Paul and Marc Davey of Silver Bay, Minn., stand on Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017, at the spot where Hazen rolled her car in a serious accident in May 1996 while rounding the curve (background) along a stretch of Highway 61 near Schroeder. The has since been reworked to improve safety. Bob King / Forum News Service5 / 5

TOFTE, Minn. — Marc Davey produced family pictures. Judith Hazen came with a binder filled with mementos from a previous occasion.

It was the sort of thing one might expect to see at a reunion of two people after more than 21 years apart — but with a difference.

"Well I have to tell you, I don't remember what you looked like," Hazen told Davey.

The last time they had seen each other, Hazen was sprawled awkwardly across the driver's seat of her wrecked 1988 Mercury Grand Marquis, her head sticking out the broken driver's side window, shards of glass shredding her right ear. Davey, who had witnessed the accident on state Highway 61 along Lake Superior's North Shore a few miles west of Schroeder, had slid into the passenger side of the vehicle. A military man with training in emergency situations, he was assessing Hazen's condition, hoping to get her out of the smoking vehicle.

That sunny afternoon of May 15, 1996, Davey, then 30, had been driving to Silver Bay from his work at Lutsen Mountains to pick up his sons at daycare. Hazen, then 53 and just out of seminary, had been driving up from the Twin Cities for a job interview at Zoar Lutheran Church in Tofte. She was almost there when her car left the road at a curve, rolled twice and slammed into a tree as the westbound Davey watched from his pickup truck.

"I can still see it," Davey said this week. "Every time I go past there, I can see it."

Davey, who was concerned the vehicle might burst into flames, pulled Hazen out the passenger side and helped her get to safety. Davey then flagged down a passing white Toyota pickup truck. In an era when mobile phones were uncommon, Davey asked the occupants to stop at the nearby home of Bill and Marion McKeever to call for help.

An ambulance arrived, and paramedics took over Hazen's care. After the sheriff came and took his information, Davey left, late to pick up his children.

Hazen spent that night in the emergency room at North Shore Hospital in Grand Marais but made it to her job interview the next afternoon. She got Davey's name and sent him a "thank-you" letter a couple weeks later.

He meant to respond, Davey said, but didn't. She forgot that she'd sent the letter, forgot that she'd ever known the name of the man who came to her rescue.

That's how it stood until last fall, when a class in the St. Paul senior citizen apartment where she lives left Hazen wanting to thank the person she considered an unsung hero from that episode two decades earlier.

With no idea who he was, Hazen contacted the Duluth News Tribune, which published a story last Oct. 30, a Sunday, describing the accident and seeking information about whether anyone knew who the good Samaritan was.

Davey called the newspaper the next day. Information was exchanged, and on Nov. 1, Davey and Hazen spent more than half an hour talking on the phone.

They kept in touch after that. Hazen sent him a copy of her Christmas letter, which included an account of her rediscovery of him. He called her at Christmas.

The reunion

The two had not reunited face to face until Tuesday, Aug. 29, when they met for lunch at the Bluefin Grille in Tofte. Hazen, who is now 74 and drives only short distances, was brought by her friends Dick and Carol Eick of Red Wing, Minn. It was Hazen's first visit to the North Shore since 1996.

The 52-year-old Davey, a family man and outdoorsman who works at Northshore Mining in his hometown of Silver Bay, arrived after Hazen and her friends. The two embraced, then sat next to each other during lunch, chatting constantly about their memories of the accident, their families and their lives.

On the surface, the two couldn't be more different. Davey, content with small-town life, is lean and athletic. Hazen, a city dweller, has short, white hair, wears thick glasses and walks with the aid of a cane.

But the two seem to have bonded. Hazen noted that she is about the same age as Davey's mother, who died four years before Hazen's accident.

His arrival just as the accident occurred seemed to him to be destined, Davey said over lunch.

"I felt like I was supposed to be there, for some reason," he said.

"Well, you knew what you were doing," Hazen responded.

"Well, I knew I was going to try," he answered.

When he first saw the car coming off the road, it looked like a Hollywood stunt trick, Davey said. He immediately started to pray that anyone in the car would be all right.

Hazen described the anxiety she had felt on the trip up with the Eicks as they neared the accident site, identified on the police report as a half-mile east of mile marker 71.

After lunch on Tuesday, the group traveled to the site. Highway 61 has been improved considerably over two decades, Davey said, but traffic volume has increased significantly at the same time. The curve doesn't seem to be as flat as it once was, and the road seems to be slightly wider, they said. The tree Hazen's vehicle hit almost certainly is gone; the area features new growth.

Then, as now, the speed limit is 55 mph. Hazen said she would have had her cruise control set at 55 when the accident occurred. Although within the limit, it would have been too fast, Davey said.

Cruise control "was part of the problem," Hazen said. "I was getting kind of mesmerized."

"You needed to get out of the car," Davey joked. "But this was a heck of a way to do it."

Hazen said she realizes she probably would have survived the accident had Davey not been there and acted so quickly. But without his prompt and knowledgeable help, she thinks her injuries might have been much worse and the quality of her life negatively affected. As it was, she recovered fully, although small shards of glass continued emerging from her ear for years after the accident.

Back at the Bluefin Grille, Hazen had paid for lunch for the Eicks, Davey and herself.

"Thank you for lunch," Davey told her.

"Thank you for life," she responded.

"You can thank the Lord for that," Davey answered. "He put us together."