By Brenda Buchanan
The April 10 headline yanked me into the story.
‘No hesitation’ as Maine man rescues mother, 2 kids from sinking car.
The heroes were a 60ish couple from Steuben, Leonard and Rosemary Wallace, who were doing a little early-season trout fishing at Fox Pond in Township 10 when a car went airborne at a sharp curve in Route 182 and wound up in the 48 degree water.
The vehicle missed the Wallaces by maybe a foot. Despite the close call they sprang into action. Leonard waded in until the pond reached his armpits, wrenched open the car’s rear door and somehow managed to free both children and their mother. He handed the kids off to his wife, who attempted to flag down passing motorists while struggling to get a 911 call to go through in a virtual cell phone dead zone. When no one stopped to assist, she fired up their Grand Am and dug out some blankets to keep the freezing family and her adrenaline-fueled husband warm until an ambulance arrived.
The story got top billing in the media for several days, as did the unfortunate follow-up news that the mother—who was on her way home from getting treatment for her drug addiction—had been drinking. The Wallaces have since been honored by the Maine Legislature. The children were taken from their mother’s custody by the Department of Health and Human Services. I hope she gets the help she needs, which can be a complicated proposition, especially in Maine’s rural reaches.
Ten days later, I remain moved by the selfless heroism of the Wallaces. If I’d been sitting on that embankment that day, would I have dropped my fishing pole and jumped in after the sinking car? I’d like to think so, but until tested, who can say for sure?
Less than two weeks before the Black Woods Road incident I’d been pondering the same question from a different perspective.
Winston Moseley, the psychopathic serial killer convicted of the 1964 rape and murder of Kitty Genovese in Queens, New York, died on March 28. Moseley’s obituary recounted that numerous neighbors heard the middle-of-the-night assault but ignored the victim’s screams. That horrific part of the story didn’t become known until weeks later when the New York Times ran a sensational follow-up piece claiming 38 witnesses had turned their backs. That number later was found to have been exaggerated, but the fact remained that plenty of people heard and disregarded Kitty Genovese’s cries, a phenomenon that came to be dubbed “the bystander effect.”
In my books and those by some of my colleagues on this blog, non-cop characters tend to be more like the Wallaces and less like Kitty Genovese’s neighbors. When bad things happen, they dive right in.
Barbara Ross’s protagonist Julia Snowden doesn’t hesitate to get involved when trouble comes to Busman’s Harbor. Maureen Milliken’s Bernie O’Dea considers it her mission in life to wade into controversy and crime. Lea Wait’s Angie Curtis deserves a badge of her own for her crime-solving ways, and Dick Cass’s Elder Darrow (what a great character name, eh?) doesn’t let his troubled past deter him from investigating stuff the cops ignore. (Chris Holm, who delights in breaking rules, writes a protagonist who is neither cop nor crime-solver. His Michael Hendricks is a big-time crime-committer, albeit with a moral center.)
My newspaper reporter protagonist Joe Gale’s vigorous journalistic style inevitably pisses people off, which brings me back to the Maine road where Leonard and Rosemary Wallace saved three lives this month. Readers of this blog who’ve read Cover Story, the second Joe Gale novel, will know Route 182 by its local name—the Black Woods Road.
In Cover Story, Joe Gale finds himself in big trouble on Route 182 during a January blizzard. With a fearsome antagonist riding his tail Joe skids around sharp curves in near-whiteout conditions—past the very spot where the young mother’s car flew into Fox Pond earlier this month—in a desperate effort to make it through the Black Woods alive.
After this month’s drama, I’ll never drive that road again without thinking of the courageous actions of Leonard and Rosemary Wallace, who saved a troubled Mom and her two babies from a tragic ending, a story Joe Gale and every real-life reporter in Maine would have shuddered to write.
Brenda Buchanan’s Joe Gale mysteries feature an old-school reporter with modern media savvy who covers the Maine crime beat. The first three Joe Gale books—Quick Pivot, Cover Story and Truth Beat—are available in digital format wherever ebooks are sold. Brenda can be found on the web at www.brendabuchananwrites.com, on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/BrendaBuchananAuthor and on Twitter at @buchananbrenda