CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WAVY) — It was one of the biggest crashes ever on Interstate 64 in Hampton Roads.
A combination of fog and black ice led to the crash that involved 75 vehicles and injured more than 50 people.
“I never imagined it would be this kind of an accident,” said Chesapeake resident Wendi Wallach.
When Wallach got in her car to travel for the Christmas holiday in 2019, she had no idea how much her life would change that day.
“It can change before you have any opportunity to think about it,” she said.
Wallach was on Interstate-64 in Williamsburg near Queen’s Creek on Dec. 22, 2019. So was 20-year-old Bray Hollowell.
“I was heading to Richmond to pick up my sister from [Virginia Commonwealth University],” Hollowell said.
The conditions were terrible for driving.
“It was really overcast and that’s when the fog started setting in. It was literally all the way down,” Wallach said. “You couldn’t even see anything in front of me.”
What happened next, neither driver will ever forget.
“I never saw it coming,” Wallach said. “… I heard what sounded like cars hitting each other.”
“I just remember seeing a whole bunch of tail lights,” Hollowell said. “… I slammed on my brakes and I was like ‘Oh I can’t stop.'”
“I heard all this glass breaking, metal hitting metal and it just didn’t stop,” said Wallach. “I didn’t realize how bad it was.”
Wallach and Hollowell ended up being just two of the 75 drivers involved in the chain-reaction crash.
“I’m sitting there and I tried to get out of my car and I go to open the door and I just hear bump, bump, bump,” Hollowell said.
“I just kept hearing more cars getting hit,” Wallach said.
“I remember one time in particular, watching behind me and I see this Dodge Charger was going to slam into me,” Hollowell said.
“I don’t remember myself getting hit, but I remember coming out of it and seeing all the cars,” Wallach added. “It was like absolute carnage. It was like a war.”
More than 50 people were injured in the pile-up, according to police. Hollowell wasn’t one of them, but when he did get out of his car, he could hear a woman screaming for help.
“As I kind of approached, I saw different pieces of her leg in a mashed door and that was when it hit me, she needed some help,” Hollowell said.
“I looked down and realized that I lost my leg, because it was, like, dangling,” Wallach said.
“I tried to do everything I could to keep her conscious,” said Hollowell.
Hollowell held Wallach’s hand and kept her awake. They talked about baseball, movies and music.
“I was trying to get her to sing songs with me and all of this different stuff,” he added.
Rescue crews finally got to Wallach and cut her out of the SUV. She was flown to Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center, where she ended up staying for more than a month. She did end up losing her leg.
As Wallach began to recover, she wanted to find the stranger who she credits with saving her life.
“He really is my hero,” Wallach said..
Just hours after posting a plea on social media to find him, Hollowell was found.
“I’m just getting hundreds and hundreds of messages on the Messenger app and I was like what’s going on?” Hollowell said. “I looked and I’m like ‘Oh wow, this is the lady. This is Wendi.'”
The two were now connected and vowed to meet again — this time in better circumstances.
“How do you thank somebody for saving your life?” Wallach asked.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, that meeting would have to wait until nearly a year to the day from the crash.
“That’s him,” Wallach said as Hollowell walked into a Norfolk restaurant.
“Even with the mask, I recognized you,” she laughed, referring to the mask Hollowell wore to comply with coronavirus safety guidelines.
This time, the encounter was planned and not by chance.
“Oh God, I couldn’t wait to do this,” Wallach said. “I really couldn’t wait to do this. I can’t thank you enough.”
The two are now forever linked.
“It was fate that we kind of met that day,” Hollowell added.
It’s a bond that will last so much longer than the time it took to form.
“There was a reason why we were connected that day,” he said.
“I am standing, I am walking and I’ve come a long way,” Wallach said. “It is really all because of him. It really is. It is all because of him.”