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April 22, 2024

Indiana man describes surviving 6 days trapped in wreckage with an injured leg that would be partially amputated

A man who survived six days trapped in a pickup truck that veered off an Indiana highway and came to rest under an overpass unseen recounted the factors of his survival while vowing to cherish a new chance at life.

Matthew Reum, 27, was discovered trapped in the mangled truck in a shallow creek in Portage, Indiana, on Dec. 26 by a man and his son-in-law, who were looking for a fishing hole along Interstate 94.

Rushed by helicopter to a trauma center, Reum was in life-threatening condition. He had suffered a broken hand and a broken leg and ultimately had the other leg amputated above the shin, he said.

Still, Reum, a journeyman welder from South Bend, is embracing life with a new perspective.

“I get in the helicopter, and my brain’s like, you made it — you’re alive,” he said in an exclusive interview after his release from the hospital. “It still took me a couple days even after that to realize the full reality of everything, you know.” 

He was headed from Hobart, Indiana, to South Bend in fog and was hoping to have enough time to attend a friend’s funeral the next day, he said. He swerved to avoid striking an animal — possibly a deer — and the vehicle was quickly on the interstate’s shoulder before it descended off the roadway into a shallow creek below, overturning along the way, according to Reum and first responders.

“Shortly after that, I blacked out,” Reum said. “And then, when I came to, I was kind of where I was where my truck has sat for six days.”

Matthew Reum.via GoFundMe

Reum said he relied on his readings and experience as a recreational outdoorsman, noting he learned the so-called survival rule of three — humans can generally survive without three minutes of breathing, three days of water and three weeks of food.

Nonetheless, his thoughts turned dark, and he attempted suicide, Reum said.  

“There was just that voice in my head of my best friend just saying stop,” he said. “And you know, it’s something I don’t wish on anybody to ever have to go through a situation like that.”

Without access to water in his trapped position behind the wheel, he used his sweatpants to funnel rainwater from his vehicle’s sunroof to his mouth, and it was enough to keep his body going, he said.

“I didn’t eat anything,” he said. “I would basically suck the water out of my sweatpants.”

He had a watch and a phone with crash notification technology, a trailer park was nearby, and he could hear voices in the distance as the highway hummed, he said. Reum said he screamed and yelled for help so loudly he was surprised he didn’t lose his voice. But it summoned only more isolation.

Dark winter days blended so well into night he couldn’t tell one from the other, and he wasn’t fully aware he had been trapped for six days, Reum said.

Along came Mario Garcia and son-in-law Nivardo De La Torre, who, using the day’s last minutes of sunlight to scout fishing holes as their wives were out, were looking for adventure.

The metal of Reum’s wrecked vehicle gleamed and drew them near.

“I was a little nervous, but I went to look inside, and that’s when I lifted up the airbag and I seen the shoulder and the body right there,” Garcia said.

He said he thought he had discovered a body. But he touched Reum and he moved.

“When they showed up,” Reum said, “I thought I was hallucinating.”

Garcia and De La Torre joined Reum in an interview with NBC News, confirming what happened when they first made contact under an interstate overpass.

“The first thing was he mentioned, ‘Are you real?'” Garcia said, quoting Reum. “‘Or am I dreaming?’ You know, he couldn’t believe it.”

The pair said they immediately contacted first responders. But even after rescuers rushed to the scene, it took hours to free Reum from his mangled, hard-to-reach truck, authorities said at the time.

“That young blood, you know, he was just smiling,” Garcia said. “Anybody else would be hurting because they lost a limb or something, but he was just so glad to be alive.”

The three have become fast friends and keep in touch daily, they said.

“It’s always amazing to see them,” Reum said. “And I don’t think that even in 20 years, my thoughts on that’ll change.”

Garcia chimed in, saying, “I think I got another son I got to keep an eye on for now.”

Reum said the amputation will present new challenges, and therapists are helping him relearn how to do basic tasks, like getting in and out of bed or preparing a meal. He’ll have new skills to go along with his new friends, who are like family.

“Yeah, I’m not upset about it at all,” he said.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, call or text 988 to reach the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline or chat live at 988lifeline.org. You can also visit SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional support.

Dana Griffin

Dana Griffin is an NBC News correspondent.

Dennis Romero

Dennis Romero is a breaking news reporter for NBC News Digital. 

Mirna Alsharif

Breaking news reporter

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