Couple Walk Away From the Fright of Their Lives

By David A. Fahrenthold
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 6, 2008

Outside Jeffrey and Sharon Fritzlen's car, which had a tractor-trailer on top of it, rescue workers were calling for cranes to lift the truck and preparing saws to cut through the crumpled Chrysler to free the couple.

Inside their Sebring sedan, the Fritzlens waited, holding hands in the wreckage. They assured each other that they were not hurt -- despite a high-speed spinout, a broadside crash into a highway divider and the two large tires on the roof above them.

Then Sharon Fritzlen remembered another problem.

"Sharon said, 'We need to call Buca di Beppo and . . . tell them we're not going to be there,' " Jeffrey Fritzlen said yesterday. The couple, who have lived in Rockville about 30 years, had been driving to the Italian restaurant in Gaithersburg on Friday evening before the crash.

"I said, 'I don't think we need to worry about that,' " Jeffrey Fritzlen said.

The Fritzlens and their rescuers said they were amazed that the pair were not seriously hurt in the wreck, which occurred about 6:15 p.m. on northbound Interstate 270 near West Montgomery Avenue (Route 28). Jeffrey Fritzlen had a cut on his head, and his wife complained of soreness in her neck and a leg.

"When they took me out and I looked at it, I said, 'Oh my God, there's that truck sitting right on the top,' " said Jeffrey Fritzlen, 68. "We were blessed" to have survived it, he said.

The cause of the crash was unclear yesterday. Maryland State Police said that their investigation was continuing and that no charges had been filed. Officers could not provide the name of the tractor-trailer driver, who was not injured. The crash backed up traffic on I-270 for nearly three hours.

Sharon Fritzlen, 66, who was driving, said she saw the truck exit the express lanes on the left into the local lanes on the right, close behind her. Then she heard metal scraping on metal.

The Fritzlens' car, apparently hit by something, began to spin.

"I thought it was all over," Jeffrey Fritzlen said yesterday. He said he feared that their car was going to be hit by other vehicles as it spun. "It's like slow motion. . . . I'm thinking about, 'I'm not going to be alive.' "

The car sideswiped a highway barrier and ended up facing traffic. Two back wheels from the truck's trailer, which was carrying trash, came to rest on top of the car.

Sharon Fritzlen, who had been pushed toward the passenger side of the car during the spin, was trapped as the truck pushed in the roof. The roof did not hit her, but she said her contorted position became uncomfortable during the hour-long rescue.

"I said, 'I can't wait to get out of here,' " she recalled yesterday. In the hubbub of the rescue and trip to the hospital, she said she never did call the restaurant.

Pete Piringer, a spokesman for the Montgomery County fire department, said rescue workers were surprised that neither of the Fritzlens had life-threatening injuries.

"Are they still in the hospital?" Piringer asked a reporter yesterday afternoon. Both Fritzlens had been treated and released Friday night. "Unbelievable," Piringer said. "Unbelievable."

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