For nearly a year, Teresa Woodard searched for a hero, and Monday night she finally met the man who pulled her father from a burning car.
Thursday, Larry Andrews picked up The Telegraph and read a story about how Woodard wanted to find the unidentified man who saved her father, Joe Chapman. Andrews, who lives in Johnson County, immediately realized he was that man, called Woodard and left a message on her answering machine.
"He said, 'I believe I met your dad the day of the wreck. Call me back,' " Woodard recalled. "I was absolutely amazed I found him."
Andrews came to Chapman's home Monday, as friends, family and media packed into the family's small living room to witness the tearful reunion.
Dec. 8, 2003, Andrews and his wife were driving in Treutlen County when they came upon a serious two-car wreck. Chapman, 66, and a passenger were trapped in a car that was smoking. Andrews, a retired paramedic and firefighter, knew what to do. He pulled Chapman and the passenger, a friend, from the car before it was engulfed in flames.
"Do you remember what I told you?" Andrews asked Chapman as he sat next to him. "I said, 'We've got to get the hell out of here.' "
Chapman suffered serious injuries, including a fractured spine, but during his treatment doctors learned he had terminal lung cancer. He isn't expected to survive until Christmas, and his dying wish was to meet the man who gave him at least another year of life.
"He was my guardian angel, that's for sure," Chapman said.
Choking back tears, he added, "I want to thank you for saving me."
Andrews, 50, and his wife, Pat, left the scene before anyone could get his name. Woodard had always wondered why Andrews left so quickly, and Monday he gave her a good answer.
"We were late for a dentist appointment," he said. "You know how hard it is to get a dentist appointment."
Until he read the story last week, Andrews didn't know that Chapman had survived the wreck. He and his wife thought Chapman had surely died. They checked the news for a few days after the wreck, but never saw a report about it.
"I didn't know they were looking for me," Andrews said.
As it turns out, he wasn't far away. Originally from Sarasota, Fla., Andrews had worked as a paramedic and firefighter there for 27 years before retiring to Johnson County in 1998. He has saved lives before and usually never even got a thank-you. Sometimes the people he saved would even try to find fault with his actions. He certainly had never been thanked as vigorously as he was Monday night.
"I'm really surprised at the effort they put forth to find me," he said. "That's another difference between central Georgia and south Florida."
Woodard handed out plaques of appreciation to Andrews and two others who helped that day, Gary Stanford and Gary Coleman, or "the two Garys," as Woodard calls them. Coleman couldn't make it Monday, but Stanford was there and recalled how he and Coleman went to retrieve a fire extinguisher when they saw the car smoking. When they returned, it was in flames, and Andrews had pulled Chapman and his passenger out.
"It would have been bad," Stanford said, when asked what would have happened if Andrews had not come to Chapman's rescue.
Andrews shunned any references to him as a hero. He was quick to spread the credit to Stanford, Coleman and others who helped.
"It was a team effort," Andrews said.
To Woodard, a plaque and "thank you" wasn't good enough.
"If I could give him a million dollars, I would," she said.