Brother's strength, bravery save sister
June 25, 2008 · Updated 3:57 PM
The car was riding smooth, real smooth.
It was so good that Colton Petry wasn't paying much attention to how his family's recently repaired BMW 535i was rolling down Smugglers Cove Road.
He didn't even care that he and his sister, Jessica, had just missed closing time at the video rental store in Freeland. Who needed a movie when they had a BMW with a new transmission and new tires. It was 9 p.m. and the ride was fine.
On their way back to their Greenbank home, 15-year-old Colton was enjoying the ride, flipping through CDs as 17-year-old Jessica drove. Directly in front of them, Colton's friend Chris Ratcliff was about to turn off the road to head back to his home in Lagoon Point. On a curve, Jessica swerved to go around them.
That's when the car started sliding.
What would happen in the next few minutes would be a test, a test of the love between a brother and sister.
A struggle to get free
"She's like 'We're not going to make it.'"
That's what Petry remembers Jessica saying as their car headed for the ditch. Talking about it Monday as he lay on his bed with his broken right foot up and Chris Ratcliff and his mother Paula keeping an eye on him, Petry could have been talking about a movie. That's what it felt like, anyway.
He guesses the car hit the ditch at about 45 mph. It slid for a while, then hit a culvert and driveway approach. It flipped once, then a second time.
When it stopped, the engine was still revved up, Petry was hanging upside down from his seatbelt and his sister, who was not wearing a seatbelt, was no longer in the driver's seat. He could hear her screaming from somewhere and could smell gasoline spilling around the car. He was scared.
"I was thinking about all the wrecks I've seen on television and they blew up," he said.
He knew he had to get out; he had to help his sister. But he was stuck in the car. Ratcliff had stopped to help, but he could not find a way to release Petry from his seatbelt. Nor could he help Jessica, who was pinned under the car's hood with a broken jaw and fractured leg. He told them he was going for help and drove home to find his parents.
Yelling over and over to his sister that he loved her, Petry regretted that he had forgotten to bring the Swiss Army-style knife he received for Christmas; he wanted to cut himself free of his seatbelt. Still, he struggled free, got out of the car and ran to the road to try to flag down help.
After being ignored by several drivers, he went back to the car with a piece of wood he found in the ditch and tried to lift the car just enough for his sister to get out. Hardly able to move, she couldn't crawl free, even though her brother had taken the weight of the still running car off her body.
Eventually, a few people stopped to help. But, said Paula Ratcliff, Petry was still holding the car up by himself when she arrived minutes after the crash. She was amazed he was able to hold on, especially after she learned that his foot was broken.
"They weren't helping him," she said of the others at the crash scene.
Eventually, Island County Sheriff's Deputy Darrin Crownover gave the Petry's the helping hand they needed. He pulled Jessica Petry, who was soaked in gasoline, away from the wreckage of the BMW.
Minutes later, firefighters from the Central Whidbey Fire District, who had been fighting a house fire nearby, arrived and started treating the two teens. Joe Biller, Central Whidbey's chief, said Crownover made a "really good call" in pulling Jessica Petry away from the car. One ignition spark might have made a serious accident a tragedy, he said.
The Petrys' parents, Ken and Mary, didn't know about the accident until their children were on their way to the hospital. Paula Ratcliff said the family's phones weren't working, so her husband had to go to their home to tell them what happened.
Recovery is all that matters
Three days after the accident, both Colton and Jessica Petry were recovering from the accident that could have killed them. Jessica was flown to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, where she was undergoing treatment for a broken jaw and fractured femur. Colton, who had planned to attend his first day of class at Oak Harbor High School after transferring out of his sister's high school in Coupeville, stayed at home in his own bed Monday as he waited to get a hard cast for his foot.
The accident seemed to be a little like a dream; a specific dream. The night before the accident, Petry said, he dreamt that he was yelling to his sister that he loved her. He woke up crying and had meant to tell her exactly that. He didn't imagine he would do it while trying to save her life.
His father, Ken, brought the wrecked car home on a flatbed truck Monday afternoon. Any illusion that the accident had been a bad dream evaporated when Colton saw the damage.
"Oh my God," he said as he teetered toward the wreckage on crutches with help from Chris Ratcliff.
Most of the windows in the car were shattered and the floorboards that were under Petry during the crash were pushed up 2 feet into the passenger compartment. The jagged metal still gripped his right shoe.
Petry said he is still not sure what caused the crash. He wondered if the new tires might have caused to slide, or water on the road.
"It seemed like we were on ice," he said.
It hardly matters now. He said he was just looking forward to being able to see his sister soon.
Jan Smith, a spokesperson with the Island County Sheriff's Office, said the accident is still under investigation. She said it appears that speed was a factor in the crash.