DRESDEN — The horn was blaring and the hazard lights were flashing, but at 5 a.m. it was still two hours until dawn, and passing cars on Cedar Grove Road were few.
Becky Berlew crouched in freezing water inside her Subaru Forester, futilely trying to break the rear window so she could escape. She despaired that anyone would spot her overturned vehicle in a watery depression at the edge of the woods.
“I figured my kids aren’t going to see me for Christmas,” Berlew said. “That’s all I could think of.”
But someone did see the blinking light. Troy Rundstrom, who happened to be delivering copies of the Kennebec Journal in the area, came to Berlew’s rescue Monday morning.
Berlew, of Pittston, praised Rundstrom as a hero. His mother, Gloria Rundstrom, with whom he lives in Dresden, agreed.
“I guess it was a very good thing he came along when he did,” she said. “When he came home and told us, we kind of thought he was a hero. He says he’s not.”
Gloria Rundstrom said her son did not want to be interviewed by a reporter.
Berlew, a 48-year-old mother of four, gave herself extra time to arrive at the L.L. Bean manufacturing plant for a 6 a.m. shift on Monday, knowing the roads would be bad after a day and night of wet snow.
The turn from Route 27 onto Cedar Grove Road was fine. Berlew passed Dresden Elementary School and slowed to less than 20 mph for the hard curve the road takes to the left there, but she lost control anyway.
“The slush picked me up, and first I went to the right, and then I went to the left, and then I just started making circles,” Berlew said. “And I think on the third circle, the car flipped upside down and slung me into the woods. And the water started coming in, but I said, ‘This can’t be happening. There’s water in here, and I can’t get out.’”
Berlew tried to keep her head, which was difficult because she was so disoriented after the crash that it took her several moments to figure out which way was up.
Berlew said mud made it impossible to open the doors, and she was afraid that opening a window would just cause the vehicle to fill with water faster. The back end of the Forester was sticking out of the water, so she moved back there. She turned on the hazard lights and stepped on the horn with one foot.
The only blunt instrument Berlew could find was a car jack handle, which she used to pound on the back window. It wouldn’t break, and Berlew was about ready to give up, thinking she would die of hypothermia if she didn’t drown first.
It had been 10 to 15 minutes when Rundstrom happened by. He pulled over, waded into the waist-deep water and managed to open the tailgate of the Forester. He pulled Berlew out and had her sit in his truck with the heat running while he called for help.
Berlew didn’t make it to work on Monday, and her arthritic knees were bothering her after the time she spent in the freezing water, but she’s glad she’ll be able to celebrate Christmas with her husband and children.
“I know that the car’s gone, but you can replace cars,” she said. “Not bodies.”
Berlew said her parents and Rundstrom’s parents know each other, and she was accustomed to waving to him when he passed her on her morning walks. Monday was the first time she ever talked to him.
Gloria Rundstrom said her son, 51, has been delivering newspapers for at least 25 years. He has helped people in two other traffic crashes just in the last couple of years, which Rundstrom said is probably one reason he doesn’t want attention.
“This happens,” she said. “This is part of a carrier’s job, I guess, to help people.”