Who saved Joe Shaver?
Probably no one will ever know for sure. The irony is that the central figure in the story -- Joe Shaver himself -- doesn't really care.
He's just glad someone pulled him from a wrecked car only 15 seconds before it burst into flames.
"I'm just so grateful to be alive," said the 30-year-old Rockville salesman. "I want to see that everyone involved in the save gets some recognition."
The differing accounts of how Shaver was rescued have Shaver and all the Good Samaritans baffled.
"No one could be after my money," Shaver said good naturedly. "I don't have any."
Joe Tollison, a distributor for The Washington Post and Gaithersburg Gazette newspapers, claims he freed Shaver from the car by pushing the dashboard off the man's leg and together with Mark Wortman and Danny O'Brien, dragged Shaver to safety. The car in which Shaver was a passenger on Jan. 11 had veered off a dark road in Gaithersburg and slammed into a tree.
Wortman and O'Brien claim Tollison didn't appear on the accident scene until they had pulled Shaver safely out of the wreckage.
To complicate matters further, Shaver doesn't remember anything.
Tollison said that at 3 a.m., after hours of delivering newspapers in the January freeze, he was heading home on Railroad Street when two women flagged him down. The women, who had stopped when they saw the wrecked car, probably could solve the mystery but they have never identified themselves.
In the shadows, Tollison said he saw the wrecked car and what appeared to be the driver assisting the passenger. He says he yelled, "Don't move him! I'm with the volunteer fire department," then jumped into his truck and drove to a nearby convenience grocery to call the scene, he says, and pulled Shaver out with the help of Wortman and O'Brien.
Wortman, 21, a construction worker, and O'Brien, 20 a nurse's aide, said it was Wortman whom Tollison saw trying to help Shaver in the wrecked car. O'Brien had stayed with Joe Borantenski, the driver of the car in which Shaver was trapped, who they found strubling along the roadway near the scene of the accident.
Boratenski, who was hospitalized for five days after the accident, has recovered from his injuries but does not remember what happened.
When O'Brien spotted flames coming from under the car, the two men dragged Shaver to safety. At this point, Wortman said, Tollison returned and helped pull the 200-pound Shaver farther from the wreck.
All three men concur that paramedics then arrived, Tollison helped them splint Shaver's injured leg and Wortman and O'Brien left. None of the men sought out Shaver after the rescue. Shaver, hoping to find a clue to his rescuers' identity, called the firefighters who had come to the scene. Tollison finally heard of Shaver's quest and the two met, 18 days after the accident, at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital, where Shaver remains a patient. He suffered multiple leg fractures in the accident.
An article in a local newspaper naming Tollison the hero caught Wortman's eye, and he phoned Shaver to tell his side of the story, saying he wanted only to see that "the straight story come out."
"It's a shame something like this has to happen," Shaver adds regretfully. But he says he is grateful to everyone who came to his aid.