Creig P. Sherburne/Atascadero News • Gregory Griffin and Wyatt Bullard, both 17, pose with Teresa Hotta, whom they helped avoid going into shock after her wreck on Highway 41 in April. Hotta said that the two saved her life and will remain in her life forever.
Wyatt Bullard, 17, just graduated from Atascadero High School. His friend Gregory Griffin, also 17, is a year behind him at the same school. They’re pretty normal guys, into normal guy things. They go to church, though not together. And they enjoy going to the movies, often together.
Teresa Hotta is a normal woman in her late 50s. She works at the animal shelter in San Luis Obispo. She’s an artist and a churchgoer and nice lady.
It was a strange bit of weather in April that brought these three normal people together.
At around 6 p.m. on Friday, April 13, Hotta was driving her husband’s 1982 Porsche because, she said, her small SUV was making weird noises. Later, she found out the noise was due to having lost four of the five lugs holding her wheel on. She was headed west on Highway 41 near Creston-Eureka Road when hail began to fall.
According to a press release issued by the California Highway Patrol, that hail led to the 21-year-old driver of a large Dodge truck headed the other way to lose control and swerve into the oncoming lane. Hotta’s Porsche crashed into it at about 40 mph.
Earlier that day, Bullard and Griffin went to go see the movie “John Carter.”
The duo said they were sitting in the theater when they decided to go do other stuff and see a later showing.
It was that spur of the moment decision that put the boys behind Hotta on Highway 41 when the hail fell and the Porsche got totaled.
“I only saw the red truck while it was crashing,” Bullard said.
“All I saw was the Porsche 10 feet up,” Griffin said.
The wreck was a bad one for Hotta. The car was totaled. She broke a foot and a rib, injured her knee and suffered deep bruising, either due to the seat belt or hitting the steering wheel, she’s not sure.
What she is sure about, though, is the role these young men played in keeping her alive.
The two stopped and jumped out of their car, aiming straight for hers.
“it was bad,” Bullard said. “No one else was in the area. … By the time we got there, at least two cars had passed by.”
Which isn’t to say it was easy. He said that as he approached the wrecked car, he had a half-second of hesitation. Did he really want to see whatever mess was inside?
He went anyway.
“What else were we going to do?” he asked.
“We were raised to be helpful,” Griffin added.
Griffin dialed 911 while Bullard’s full attention was focused on Hotta.
All three and the weatherman agreed, it was cold and wet out there. Hotta’s car was a mess and she couldn’t get out. Griffin said they tried opening the door, but it simply wasn’t happening. So they spoke to her and held her hand and kept her calm. A nearby resident brought blankets to ward off the chill.
Hotta said that she is positive she’d have gone into shock and died had it not been for the blankets and for the boys staying close and holding her hand.
“The pain was so intense, I thought I was dying,” she said. “I wasn’t frightened, I just wanted them to stay with me. … I didn’t want to be alone.”
She added that just knowing an ambulance was on its way helped her enormously.
Griffin said that the car’s windshield ended up some 50 feet away from the car itself. All four tires popped in the wreck. And he said that he scooped up a handful of CDs after Hotta asked him to. They were mostly mix CDs she’d made for her husband, Frank, and an audiobook.
An emergency crew showed up. Griffin said they cut the roof of the car off to extract Hotta. That didn’t help the grand old Porsche’s appearance any.
“They pretty much tore the car apart to get her,” Bullard said.
Hotta and her husband, by the way, are no strangers to wrecks. She said that about six years ago, her husband was hit head-on by a drunk driver while he was on his bicycle. He doesn’t ride any more.
And another time while visiting the Los Angeles area, Hotta saw a car do cartwheels and land on its roof. She pulled the two kids out of their car seats and comforted them while their mom was cared for.
“The Porsche was [Frank’s] baby,” she said.
She said that when going to appointments and in telling the story socially, many people expressed their condolences about the car and not her injuries. It’s something that makes her smile, but she was also quick to point out that when Frank went to court with the drunk driver who hit him, he asked for leniency.
So he instantly and completely forgave his wife, Hotta said.
Griffin and Bullard stayed with Hotta until the ambulance left. They said it felt like perhaps half an hour, but in fact it was more than two hours from the time the crash happened until the ambulance left the scene.
“When we left, our clothes were soaking wet,” Griffin said.
The boys added — with a lot of bewilderment — that the CHP officers on scene never asked them a single question, either then or since.
Hotta went to Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center, but was discharged at about 1 a.m.
“They gave me a prescription for a wheelchair,” she said.
Since the wreck, Griffin said that when he drives home and gets to that spot, his heart still races. Hotta is still recuperating. She said people at church were pretty alarmed when she went from attending church with a walker after her hip surgery to attending in a wheelchair. And, she said, Griffin and Bullard will have a place in her life for the rest of her life.
“I’ve adopted them, they’ll be in my life forever,” she said. “They were so brave.”