Miracle on a California Highway

Officer Clay Smith (right) examines the remains of Todd’s Pontiac Sunbird.

Remains of Todd’s Pontiac Sunbird.

Todd Renzema, Rich Miller and Clayton Smith

Todd, Little Josh, and wife, Lynn, in hospital.

by Rich Miller

Rich Miller served as webmaster for the Bill Rudge Ministries for two years. He is the nephew of Bill and Karen, and a good friend of Clayton Smith who is Tabitha’s husband. In fact, Tabitha and Clay met when Bill performed the wedding of Rich and Sunday (Todd Renzema’s sister).

God often confirms His love and demonstrates His power through miracles so that our faith in Him will be strengthened, and we will have a deeper understanding of His relationship with us. Through these miracles we have proof that Christ is alive and that He is Lord of Heaven and Earth.

The Bible has many eyewitness accounts where God demonstrates His power and His love through a miraculous sign or wonder. As He takes impossible situations and makes them possible, we get a better understanding of the love and compassion that He has for His children.

A situation happened on Halloween night 2003 in southern California that dramatically touched my family, strengthened our faith and demonstrated the amazing mercy and love that God has for us. My sister-in-law, Lynn Renzema, eagerly awaited the arrival of her husband, Todd, from work. It was 7:30 p.m. and Todd was an hour late. She sensed that something might be wrong and asked her mother, Diana, to come to their home. Lynn repeatedly tried to contact Todd on his cell phone without response.

Assuming that his car had broken down, Lynn prepared to search for him along the side of the freeway. A half-hour search yielded no clues to Todd’s whereabouts, so Lynn returned home hoping to find his car parked in the driveway. She grew increasingly worried when she arrived home and learned that her mother, Diana, still had not heard from Todd.

Soon I received a phone call from Lynn’s mother. As she explained the situation, I thought there must be a logical explanation for Todd’s late arrival since it was uncharacteristic of him to be an hour late and not call home.

My friend, Casey, and I drove by Todd’s workplace. Upon discovering that he was not there, we decided to start looking for him along the freeway en route to Lynn and Todd’s house. We were confronted with an eight-mile stretch of unlighted highway that consists of many deep ravines and large hills.

A few days before, one of the California fires had burned through this location consuming almost all of the brush and blackening much of the area. The scorched earth made it even more difficult to see in the darkness. As we unsuccessfully searched the freeway, our imaginations began to paint a picture of likely scenarios such as Todd driving off the freeway into a ravine, being a victim of a carjacking or being kidnapped.

Still No Clues

It was 9:15 p.m. when we arrived at Todd and Lynn’s house. It was almost three hours since anyone had heard from him, so we decided to contact the local law enforcement agencies to determine if they had any information about him. The sheriff’s department and the California Highway Patrol were contacted but they reported having no record of Todd being involved in an accident, being transferred to a hospital or being taken to jail. We did learn that there had been an accident - a car fire earlier in the evening - but none of the vehicles or persons matched the description.

As time passed we could not help but imagine the worst-case scenario –– that Todd was severely injured or perhaps dead. We prayed for Todd’s safety and that if he was hurt, the Lord would protect him. As we closed in prayer, Lynn mentioned that the Lord spoke to her heart that Todd was not dead but that he was just sleeping. Encouraged by Lynn’s revelation, Casey and I decided to search the freeway one more time, but the dark of night made an effective search impossible.

Casey and I arrived home around 11:30 p.m. –– nearly five hours after Todd was found to be missing. With each passing moment we grew increasingly concerned about his safety and again prayed for God’s protection. We realized we had done everything possible and placed the situation entirely in God’s hands. As the early morning hours approached, we tried to get some sleep to resume our search at sunrise.

Eleven Hours Later

My wife, Sunday, and I woke at 5:45 a.m. to the ringing of the telephone. As my wife struggled to find the receiver, I anxiously waited to hear if this might be news regarding Todd. My friend, Clayton Smith, a California Highway Patrol officer, had just started his a.m. shift and was on the phone. He was contacted by Lynn earlier that morning and was informed of Todd’s disappearance. Clayton had already notified dispatch which made this a top priority because of Clayton’s friendship with Todd. A helicopter unit was contacted to search the canyon areas along the freeway, but an overnight rain and a heavy morning fog delayed the helicopter.

Clayton drove his patrol car slowly along the shoulder of the freeway while I peered into the ravines along the way. As I peered into each canyon, I prepared myself mentally for the possibility of seeing Todd’s car at the bottom.

New Clues

With every moment that passed, our hope of finding Todd alive became more desperate. Clayton contacted dispatch once again and learned further details about an accident that had occurred the previous night on the freeway. He learned that at approximately 6:30 p.m. emergency vehicles responded to an accident involving two cars and a fire. A female driver was reportedly removed from the scene and taken to the emergency room. One car was a Pontiac Grand Am and the other car was unidentifiable due to the damage it had sustained, but was suspected to be a Pontiac.

Clayton and I concluded there was a high possibility that one of these vehicles could have been Todd’s. Just then my uncle, Bill Rudge, and Lynn drove up to help with the search. We decided not to tell Lynn until we were certain if Todd was involved.

As Bill stepped out of his car and out of Lynn’s presence, Clayton informed Bill of the situation. After a brief discussion Clayton and I sped away in the patrol car to find the accident scene while Bill took Lynn home to pray and contact hospitals.

Locating the Accident Scene

After several minutes we noticed skid marks along the shoulder of the freeway, about a half mile west of where we had originally been searching. Clayton slowed down and stopped the patrol car on the shoulder near some debris. As Clayton talked with dispatch, I got out of the patrol car and walked to the edge of the ravine. I looked down and saw Todd’s body lying on the ground about 20 feet down the hillside. His car was nowhere to be found. His back was flat against the earth, his face as pale as snow, left arm by his side, with his right hand resting on his chest. As I struggled to grasp the reality of the situation, a surge of adrenaline shot through my body as though I was hit in the chest by a heavy object. I turned my head away stricken with the fact that I had just found my brother-in-law dead in a canyon. My knees began to buckle as I yelled to Clayton, “There’s a body down there!”

As I observed Todd slightly wiggling the fingers on his right hand, I recalled Lynn’s words about God telling her Todd was not dead but was just sleeping. I turned toward Clayton who was informing dispatch and yelled, “He’s alive!”

In an effort for a more immediate response, Clayton radioed in the code for “officer needs assistance.” As I raced to get the EMT kit out of the patrol car Clayton made his way down the ravine to check Todd’s vital signs and offer him aid.

Hold On!

Todd lay almost motionless as Clayton applied gauze to a noticeable laceration on the side of his head. I placed my fingers in the palm of Todd’s right hand to let him know that I was there. Todd briefly opened and rolled his eyes side to side as I continued to reassure him that help was on the way. His breathing was labored and shallow, rattling as he fought for air. Clayton started to connect the O2 bottle as he administered oxygen to aid Todd’s breathing. In order to maintain Todd’s alertness I commanded him to grip my fingers whenever I felt him loosen his grip.

Within a few minutes the first of the medical response teams arrived. Clayton called to them, “He’s been here all night!” Immediately the EMTs got their gear and rushed to Todd. Several more emergency personnel arrived including fire trucks, highway patrol officers, ambulances, and a helicopter unit. It was not long before Todd was placed on a transfer board and carried up the ravine toward a waiting ambulance.

As I walked out of the canyon toward the patrol car, I overheard one of the emergency personnel tell Clayton that they could not find Todd’s pulse, indicating his system was starting to shut down. As Todd was rushed into the ambulance and to the emergency room, Clayton and I followed behind in the patrol car. I prayed silently for Todd’s survival and hoped that he could hang on long enough to make it to the emergency room.

Assessing His Injuries

We arrived at the hospital in a few minutes. We were told that Todd had survived the trip to the emergency room but his body temperature was down to 85 degrees. He was quickly taken into the trauma unit for a CT scan in order to assess the extent of his head trauma. As family members started to arrive at the hospital, doctors reported after several tests that he had the following extensive injuries:

  • Brain trauma, swelling, slight bleeding, with the possibility of cognitive and communication damage such as delayed comprehension 
  • Left ankle fracture and laceration 
  • Shattered left knee 
  • Left shoulder fracture and dislocation possibly requiring a steel rod and ball insertion 
  • Right shoulder fracture 
  • Right knee hairline fracture 
  • Multiple skin abrasions and lacerations 
  • Several chipped teeth 

In speaking with the medical personnel who assessed Todd’s injuries, it was speculated that: 

On his way home from work he was stuck in traffic on the freeway. (For an unknown reason Todd pulled onto the shoulder.) 
As he was standing near his car, it was struck from behind by a motorist who had swung onto the shoulder. The impact forced his car to smash against him clipping his legs and knees. As the car moved forward, it violently threw him into the ravine. 
His car finally rested on the shoulder 50 feet away from its original location and ignited when the gas tank ruptured.
When emergency personnel arrived at the scene and found no body in or around the wreckage of Todd’s vehicle, they assumed the vehicle was previously disabled and abandoned prior to the accident. 
Due to the extreme damage to Todd’s car, authorities were unable to find the license plate or vehicle identification number and therefore no records of his car were in their computer systems.

Epilogue

After an extensive hospitalization of approximately three months, Todd made a miraculous recovery and returned home to his family. It was miraculous....

that he was not killed on impact
that he survived being thrown 50 feet
that he did not suffer permanent brain damage.

At that time, as he held his two year old son and anticipated the birth of another child, we were all so thankful that God had spared Todd’s life. Our families continue to believe that a miracle has happened and that many prayers were answered by this remarkable chain of events. Just as God had revealed earlier to Lynn that Todd was not dead, he was just sleeping - Todd had been found alive, minutes from death! He had lain 14 hours in a ravine, with multiple injuries, through the cold of night, and an overnight rain. Yes, God protected him. God answered our prayers. What a truly amazing God we have!