INDIANAPOLIS — Tim Rutledge's eyelid had frozen shut. His voice was hoarse after competing for hours with bitter-cold wind and humming truck engines while screaming for help. He was losing consciousness, pinned under his rig in sub-zero temperatures at an Indiana truck stop.
The longtime Florida truck driver had crawled under his truck with a hammer to loosen ice from his brakes about 4 a.m. Monday, as record-breaking temperatures swept into the state. But the truck suddenly settled deeper into the snow, pinning him beneath an axle.
The 53-year-old was trapped, helpless as his cellphone rang dozens of times in a coat pocket he couldn't reach. It had been about eight hours. He feared he was near death.
Then his phone suddenly toppled from his pocket, its vibrating ring enough to finally wiggle it free. He was able to scoop it up with his right hand inside a frozen glove, use its voice dial to call a company dispatcher and muster a quiet plea for help.
"I said 'Whoever this is, don't hang up on me because it's going to be the last time that I'll be able to call. I can't call out and I can't answer the phone,' " Rutledge said Thursday, recalling his experience at IU Health Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis.
Doctors said his body temperature was so low when he arrived at the hospital, about 86 degrees, that just one more hour likely would have been fatal. Yet he was released Thursday and planned to fly home to Orlando, with little more than numbness in his left hand and side where the axle had pinned him.
Rutledge noted that the phone calls from his wife, Lisa, began soon after he missed making his typical early morning check-in.
"I used to think it was kind of a hassle, but I always called her just so she knew where I was at," he said. "I won't take her for granted now. She saved me."
Rutledge said he was lucky to be alive.
"There was another hand in this," he said. "If my phone would've dropped the other way, I could never have called anyone. If it (the truck) would've sunk any farther, I wouldn't have had a need to call anyone."