The mysterious appearance of a priest at the scene of a horrific car accident, as rescue workers were beginning to give up hope they would be able to extricate Katie Lentz from her mangled vehicle, is being hailed as a miracle.
Lentz, 19, was pinned between the steering wheel and the seat after Aaron Smith, 26, crossed the center line and struck her car head on Sunday morning.
New London Fire Chief Raymond Reed said rescue crews had struggled to get Lentz out of her car for nearly an hour, but the metal of her old-model Mercedes dulled the equipment.
Lentz was failing fast and, as she asked rescue workers to pray out loud with her, the priest suddenly appeared.
"My first thought was that it would possibly send the wrong message to Katie that maybe we had called a priest and thought she wasn't going to make it," said Ralls County Sheriff's Deputy Richard Adair. "He said, 'I just want to anoint her' and so we just let him come up to the scene."
The priest prayed with Lentz, anointing her and her rescuers with oil and offering reassurances.
"A sense of calmness came over her, and it did us as well," Fire Chief Reed said. "I can’t be for certain how it was said, but myself and another firefighter, we very plainly heard that we should remain calm, that our tools would now work and that we would get her out of that vehicle.”
Moments later, the Hannibal Fire Department arrived with fresh equipment, and rescuers were able to free Lentz in time to get her onto an Air Evac helicopter to get a hospital.
But the priest had disappeared, and no one knew who he was, and the mystery surrounding his well-timed appearance has only grown.
No one saw how the priest got to the crash scene -- the road was blocked for several miles on either side, and no one was allowed through the road blocks -- and he was not in any of the 80 photos taken at the scene by the fire department.
Even the Diocese of Jefferson City said it didn't know who he was.
"The Diocese has not been contacted by any of its priests assigned in the area, or elsewhere in the Diocese, that they were involved in this matter," Director of Communications Dan Joyce said. "Out of respect for the privacy of any priest who may have been involved and does not wish to come forward, the Diocese does not plan to further investigate this incident. The Diocese is grateful that a priest was able to exercise his ministry in this manner and requests prayers for healing of the accident victim."
Whoever he is, he has the thanks of a grateful town.
Smith, the driver of the other car, has been charged with a DWI, second degree assault and failure to drive on the right half of the roadway.