Deb Neuman hopes to find the person who helped rescue her from a car crash and mailed all her Christmas presents while she was in the hospital. Credit: Emily Burnham / BDN

Around this time every year, Deb Neuman always thinks about how 26 years ago she was in a bad car crash on Route 1A in Dedham, and how a kind stranger helped save her life and her Christmas presents for family.

Neuman is hoping to find the person who not only rescued her from her totaled car and kept her alert and comfortable but also took care of some important holiday errands for her while she was being treated at a hospital for her injuries. She posted her story on the Downeast Maine Traffic and Road Conditions Facebook page Tuesday, and the response has already been overwhelming.

“It’s been all these years, and I’ve never known who this person was so I could thank them,” said Neuman, who is president of the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce. “This year, something struck me, and I just wanted to know. When I posted that, I didn’t think so many people would want to help.”

It was Friday, Dec. 13, 1996, and Neuman — who at the time had the last name Meltzer — was living in Sorrento and commuting regularly to Bangor for her job. She was on her way to Bangor for a Christmas party, and had loaded up her vehicle with Christmas presents to mail to her family back in her home state of Pennsylvania.

At some point between Ellsworth and Dedham, the weather changed from rain to freezing rain, and Route 1A became incredibly slick and visibility plummeted. Freaked out by the driving conditions, she and others had pulled off the road just before the Dedham School near the intersection with Route 46.

“I will always remember looking up and seeing this car just spinning out of control on the road, and it was heading straight for me,” Neuman said. “I closed my eyes and felt the impact, but I don’t remember anything else. The next thing I recall was hearing a man’s voice and feeling someone cradling my head and telling me I was going to be OK.”

Though she had been knocked unconscious and had a head injury that would take her months to recover from, Neuman said one of the only other things she remembered was telling her rescuer that she had a trunk full of Christmas presents that needed to be mailed.

“That seems like a pretty trivial thing to be upset about after you’ve been in a crash like that, but that was what mattered to me in the moment,” she said. “And whoever this was was so kind and reassuring.”

After getting out of the hospital, Neuman told her family that her presents had been destroyed along with her car. But a few days later, she found out she was mistaken.

“My mom called me and said, ‘You’re not going to believe it, but all the packages arrived,’” she said. “We just cried. All I can fathom is that this person mailed them for me. He knew it was important to me, and he just did it.”

The crash occurred years before social media existed, so trying to find the person who rescued her and mailed her presents was no easy task back then. A post on the Downeast Traffic Facebook page about the road conditions on Route 1A in Dedham over the weekend jogged Neuman’s memory, however, and she was inspired to finally try to find him.

Neuman thinks the person was likely an EMT for a local fire department in either Holden, Brewer or possibly Ellsworth, though she’s not totally sure. Her original Facebook post has been shared more than 60 times, so she’s hoping a name will come out of the woodwork.

“In the end, it’s not the gifts that mattered. It’s that someone would do something like that for a complete stranger,” she said. “It’s a really good reminder of how good people can be, and how people do good things not to be recognized, but because it’s the right thing to do. This person saved my Christmas, and probably my life.”

Correction: An earlier version of this car misstated the kind of vehicle Neuman was driving.

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Emily Burnham

Emily Burnham is a Maine native and proud Bangorian, covering business, the arts, restaurants and the culture and history of the Bangor region.