It was instinct.
When the brake lights from the car in front of him flooded his vision, Steven Coney put his foot to the floor.
"I tried putting on my brakes. Nothing. Pulled up my emergency brakes and did a 360," Coney said. When his car stopped spinning, Coney looked up and saw an 18-wheeler headed straight for him.
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"My life literally flashed in front of my eyes. It happened so fast."
The tractor-trailer’s back end slammed right over his car, crushing the front. Coney was still in the driver’s seat, still alive and could smell fuel.
"I opened my seat belt as fast as I could and I climbed out the window."
A few feet behind him on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, Troy Bodolus, 36, was just realizing that the big grey-white swatch ahead of him was not dark sky.
"I had the visor down because of the sunlight and so heading into the sunlight I thought at first it kind of blended into the sky. And then it dawns on me, oh my goodness, that’s a truck sideways," Bodolus said.
The brakes in his truck did work, but there was trouble behind him.
"I looked in the mirror and saw people spinning. I sat there like a bumper car and each time I got hit my truck kept getting pushed closer and closer to the tractor trailer,” Bodolus said. But he got lucky. All the slamming stopped and so he got out of his truck to see who needed help. That’s when he saw Coney’s car pinned under the 18-wheeler.
"I started asking other people what happened to whoever was in that car and someone said, ‘That’s him sitting over on that snow bank. I walked right over and I shook his hand and I said, ‘You don’t know me, but I’m thankful that you’re here and that you’re alive." Bodolus said.
"People were just coming up to me and saying, ‘You’re lucky to be alive," said Coney, who walked away from the accident.
More than two-dozen other victims were not as lucky. They were taken to local hospitals, but Bodolus says it took a long time for help to arrive and that the scene and the silence were surreal.
"It was just amazing that that was the Turnpike. When I got out and when I stood, we were standing on ice. Walking on ice. It was a road covered with ice. Everybody was walking around and talking to each other. The weird thing is, there were no sirens. No police or anything. It was silent for over an hour," Bodolus said, because rescue crews were working on the accidents up ahead.
Bodolus invited Coney to come stay warm in his truck where the two men sat stranded, along with hundreds of other people, for hours on the eastbound side of the Turnpike. They passed the time talking about their families. Bodolus is married with two young children and Coney, 29, has a fiancée.
"She was the first person I called and we were both crying, because, you know, it’s Valentine’s Day," Coney said.
After nearly four hours, Troy was able to get off the Turnpike and Bodolus offered Coney a ride home in his banged-up truck. They stopped at Bruno’s Pizza, right off the highway.
"The first person we saw, this lady inside the pizza place said, ‘Did you see that accident?!’ We both just looked at each other and said, ‘We were in it!’, Bodolus said. "You know, I guess tonight we’re two strangers just happy to be alive."