Local 374 member trapped for six days escapes death

He asked me if I was real. And when he said he’d been there at least six days, I panicked.

Mario Garcia, upon discovering that Boilermaker Matt Reum was alive in his wrecked truck

Local 374 honored Matt Reum’s rescuers. From l. to r. Mario Garcia, Matt Reum and Narvardo De La Torre.

In a harrowing ordeal worthy of a blockbuster movie, Matt Reum from Local 374 (Hobart, Indiana) barely escaped death last December. On a late-night drive home, his truck hit a guardrail and rolled several times, finally stopping in a ditch under a highway overpass. 

Surviving on nothing but pure grit and the dirty water dripping down from the highway above, Reum didn’t know if he’d live—or if he even wanted to—during the six long days and nights he was trapped in his truck.  

The ill-fated Dec. 20 started early at 5 a.m. After a day at the local lodge, he ran errands and did a bit of Christmas window shopping late in the evening before embarking on the hourlong drive home, around 11 p.m. He’d been out of sorts for a few weeks after a close friend died and due to work, he’d missed the funeral home visitation. He hoped to drive to Missouri for the funeral, but that trip would never happen. 

Reum’s drive home turned foggy, and coupled with the long day, he missed his exit. After turning around and getting back on course, a deer leaped out in front of his pickup. He swerved onto the shoulder of the highway to avoid the deer, but hit a guardrail, which robbed the pickup of the driver’s side tire. The out-of-control vehicle careened down the embankment, tumbled through a river and landed under the bridge, directly beneath a drainage spout, hidden from view.

“That’s how I got water for six days,” Reum says. “When it rained, I would have some water.”

The force of hitting the guardrail shoved the engine into the cab thus pushing the dashboard up against him and pinning his left leg, rendering him mostly immobile. His phone was mere inches out of reach. He stayed in the same position for six days, but not from lack of trying to extricate himself, including an attempt to unbolt the dash with one hand. 

“I was awake a fair amount,” he says. “I had a watch on and knew vaguely how long it would take for a minute, for a day.  Some of the days were raining and so overcast, I thought I was down there for longer than I was. My brain was telling me I was down there for nine days. Where I was at, I heard everything. I heard every vehicle. I would stay awake at night hearing fire trucks.” 

He thought he heard people working above him and spent hours every day yelling for help. 

“Two out of ten, do not recommend,” he says with a wry smile. 

Even though one of his hands was shattered and his body pinned, he didn’t have a lot of pain. He did have a lot of time for thinking, a lot of time for mental battles. 

“Everybody says when they’re at death’s door, their life flashes before their eyes,” Reum says. “I didn’t have that. The only thing I could do to get myself out of that situation was to think. There was a lot of time thinking about regrets. Things I said I wish I hadn’t. Things I didn’t say. Things I still wanted to do.” 

As the days ticked by and Reum inched closer to death, in another part of town Mario Garcia and his son-in-law Navardo De La Torre decided to go for a walk. And in amazing synchronicity, their walking trail wasn’t far from the underpass where Reum clung to life. 

“We were going to Bass Pro Shop to walk and get steps in—there’s a trail there to spot deer and get fresh air,” De La Torre says. “There is also a trail we haven’t gone on, but I was showing Mario where it was at. There was a fishing spot I knew was there with steelhead running, and I know he likes to fish.” 

When De La Torre looked around the potential fishing spot, he spotted Reum’s truck. Garcia hiked over to investigate, saw a body then approached the crumpled truck, fearing the man inside was dead. 

“When I touched the body, he moved!” Garcia says, noting the movement shocked him. “He asked me if I was real. And when he said he’d been there at least six days, I panicked.”

Quickly Garcia called 911 to alert rescue workers. As Reum slowly realized the man before him was truly real, he told Garcia what had happened. 

“We need to get you out of here quick,” Garcia told Reum. 

Rescuers arrived in under five minutes. A helicopter landed on the highway above the crash site preparing to rush Reum to the hospital while first responders pried the dashboard off his legs. Rescue workers freed him in less than an hour. Garcia and De La Torre stayed with him throughout the ordeal. 

“I wanted to make sure he was going to make it,” Garcia says. 

And make it he did, although he lost one leg below the knee and one of his hands was crushed. Neither of those issues dampened Reum’s high spirits or blunted the lessons he learned through the ordeal. 

“At the end of the day, the biggest thing I’ve learned is twofold: Not everybody gets a second chance, so live your first chance to the extreme. And second, it’s okay to ask for help,” he says.  

Before the accident, Reum was extremely independent and didn’t ask others for assistance. He solved problems on his own. But he quickly learned he couldn’t lose part of a leg and have a crushed hand and survive without the help of other people while healing. For months after the accident, he physically couldn’t do the things he used to be able to do. He was on crutches and simple tasks, such as carrying his own groceries, were impossible. 

“It’s a very challenging aspect of this life,” Reum says. 

He now has a temporary prosthetic, and he’s learning to walk with that. Soon he’ll get a permanent one, and life will become a bit easier. As far as his future with the Boilermakers, Reum hopes to keep working. His shattered hand has healed, and he can still weld.   

Even with the challenges that lie ahead, Reum’s attitude is positive. 

“I could say ‘why me, poor me.’ But growing up, we always did a cost/risk analysis. And when you think about my life now, it cost me a leg. Yes, that sucks. But at the end of the day, if you asked anybody here, they’d take the trade easily. I’m still alive after all.”