A 90-year-old retired Shaler, Pennsylvania, police sergeant recently reunited with a woman he helped save from a car fire 41 years ago during a chance meeting at the funeral of a mutual friend.
In 1981, Shaler Police Sergeant Ralph Hoffman was on patrol when a car flashing a blue volunteer firefighter light sped passed him on Mount Royal Boulevard. Suspicious about the reason for the speeding car, Hoffman turned around and pursued them.
Shortly after, Hoffman saw a plume of smoke rising from a vehicle collision at the intersection of Mount Royal Boulevard and Sutter Road — an area known to be dangerous due to a hump in the road that can obscure drivers’ vision.
It turned out that the speeding car had slammed into the back of a Ford Mustang convertible that was waiting to make a right turn, which pushed the car into oncoming traffic. The front of the car collided with a truck, and there was an explosion. The driver, 17-year-old high school senior Cindy Lott, was ejected from the car in flames.
A Frito Lay truck driver put out the flames, engulfing her body with a fire extinguisher while others rushed to cover her with a blanket and jackets. She murmured her name and slipped into unconsciousness.
Lott was burned so badly that doctors told her family she wouldn’t survive the night, but she did. She was given the name “Wonder Woman” in newspaper articles at the time and went on to be a mother, a school administrator and a dance instructor for young people with disabilities.
Lott was unconscious throughout most of the accident. Doctors said that, ironically, not wearing a seatbelt at the time of the crash may have saved her life. Although it allowed her to be ejected from the car, the damage she received from a glancing blow to her skull from the convertible latch would have been deadly had she been restrained by the belt.
In the hospital, the road to recovery was long and painful, but Lott overcame it all.
Now 41 years later and 58 years old, Lott finally reunited with Hoffman, the officer who was there helping at the crash. She said she was drawn to him at the funeral because of a certain “energy.”
“Excuse me, I have to ask you, were you a Shaler Township police officer in 1981?” She asked him.
“I think you were the first person on the scene of my accident at Mount Royal and Sutter.”
“The fire?” he replied immediately. “Oh my God, are you that girl? You were burned so bad, and all of your hair was gone!”
“To see the shape she was in, it was, oh my God, out of the past. Out of that tragedy. And now, I’m face to face with it, and she’s a beautiful lady,” Mr. Hoffman recalled. “It was fantastic; after all these years, here’s that girl.”
A few months after the funeral and days before Hoffman’s 90th birthday, Lott and Hoffman met again, but this time at the scene of the crash. Lott came bearing gifts and a card for the former officer.
“What do you buy for the man who saved your life?” she asked.
Hoffman was just happy to reunite with her.
“Over the years, 1,000 accidents later, you never faded from my mind,” he told her.
Lott then hugged Hoffman and repeatedly thanked him, although the former officer deferred credit to firefighters and others who helped at the scene.
“It’s so emotional to see you and thank you for everything you’ve done. It was so important, and it saved my life,” she said tearfully.
“I always say everything happens for a reason, and even though that was an absolutely terrible experience, it certainly did change my path,” she concluded.