Dust and debris were still falling from the sky when Paul Graham made his way to the crushed cars.
Graham, a Snoqualmie Police Sgt., was off duty. He could have stayed and stewed in the traffic jam that was building after this terrible accident.
But Graham always keeps a medical kit in his pickup, and he isn’t one for staying on the sidelines.
Graham hustled up the shoulder of Interstate 90, where two cars had just collided, head-on, at 70 miles an hour.
The State Trooper at the scene was doing triage, and had moved past what looked like a hopeless situation. North Bend resident Rachel McNaul, the victim in the accident, had been terribly hurt. She was still inside one of the crushed cars.
“I started checking her for injuries,” said Graham. “I couldn’t find any blood, but I could see there were problems. She was squeezed into a little area of the car. She was the driver, but she was in the back seat.”
Right off the bat, Graham was struck by a disturbing sound: “What we call the death rattle. It’s a noise you make when your body isn’t functioning. Your body is trying to breathe and it can’t.”
Graham dove into the car, moved Rachel’s neck to open her airway, and held her in the position until help could arrive.
He doesn’t know how long they waited. It seemed like forever. Paramedics had to cut the car apart around them, shielding them from the Jaws of Life demolition with a blanket.
McNaul probably would have died that day—December 19, 2009—if it wasn’t for Graham
Three years later, he is being recognized. The 16-year Snoqualmie officer got the Mayor’s Lifesaving Award in a presentation Tuesday, May 28, in front of the Snoqualmie City Council.
“He really did save my life,” said McNaul, who came to the ceremony to recognize Graham. He didn’t have to help her, but he did anyway. “It’s just the type of person he is.”
In 2010, she met Graham in person. Her mother now brings a gift for the sergeant to the Snoqualmie Police Station on the anniversary of the crash.
McNaul, a 2003 Mount Si graduate, longtime employee at the North Bend Safeway, and now substitute teacher, also speaks to students about her experience as a victim of a drunk-driving crash.
“If I just make a difference in one kid’s life, that one kid is making the choice not to drink and drive. That makes a difference to me.”
Engaged to be married, and pursuing a teaching career, she was the showstopper at the May 16 Think And Drive event at Mount Si High School.
She doesn’t remember the accident, and that’s a mercy.
“I can’t imagine what it would be like to hear the noise, see the car coming at you. It’s intense to think about it,” she said. “I did live it. But I don’t remember.”
McNaul now has rods and metal in her arms and legs. She’s not quite the same as she was before the accident, but “I’m as good as I’m gonna get,” she says.
McNaul’s experience is an ongoing lesson about responsibility and strength, says Graham.
“That driver made choices for Rachel,” he said. “Those decisions affected everyone there.”
Graham is not one to seek awards. A lot of others played a role in her survival, McNaul foremost, he said.
“She fought through that. Some people don’t. She deserves a medal for battling through, overcoming and turning it into something she can do positively, in her community. That’s huge.”
• Mount Si students made a film about McNaul’s experience at mshswildcattv.weebly.com/think-and-drive.html.