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October 12, 2012

A good catch and a nice save

Warren man helps nab thief, comforts accident victim in same hour

By Brian Louwers
C & G Staff Writer

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A good catch and a nice save
Lifelong Warren resident Glen Mendyka found himself in the right place at the right time twice on Oct. 5.

WARREN — Many kids, and even a few adults, dream of being superheroes this time of year.

Wearing masks and capes, they take to the streets and imagine fighting crime or helping people in distress.

Glen Mendyka had no such plans when he left his house on Oct. 5. It was setting up to be just another day for the retired auto painter who wanted to work on his truck, and he began his morning with a trip to the auto parts store.

Fate, as it turned out, had different plans for Mendyka.

The 55-year-old lifelong Warren resident, husband, father of three and Fitzgerald High School grad found himself in the right place at the right time — twice — in the span of an hour that morning. First he foiled a larceny at a gas station. Minutes later, he came upon the scene of a violent auto accident, where he crawled inside a battered Chevy Tahoe to comfort a crash victim before firefighters arrived.

The events kicked off at about 8:15 a.m., as Mendyka was leaving his subdivision and noticed something suspicious at Speedway on Van Dyke near Masonic while he was stopped at a traffic light.

“I saw a guy run out of there. I saw employees pointing and waving,” Mendyka said. “He was walking fast. He saw me. He walked back on Van Dyke.”

Mendyka said he stopped at the gas station to find out what happened and was told by employees that the guy stole snacks. He left the store and watched the suspect walk behind nearby businesses, and eventually cross the road. That’s when he called 911 and waited as Warren police swooped in and took the man into custody. He then went back to Speedway and told the employees the police had their man.

“When people steal stuff from other people, that just gets me so mad,” Mendyka said. “I just want them to be caught. I don’t want them to get away.”

With his good deed for the day done before 8:45 a.m., Mendyka resumed his course to the auto parts store near 13 Mile and Ryan.

Fate again changed his plans at 13 Mile and Mound, where a police chase ended in a violent crash just before 9 a.m.

Mendyka got to the intersection before first responders and found a tangled mess left when a Pontiac Grand Am ran a red light and broadsided a Chevy Tahoe.

He said the driver of the Grand Am was unconscious. After speaking to another man who stopped at the scene, Mendyka said he figured the driver of the Grand Am was already dead.

The men turned their attention to the Tahoe.

“I got there probably, maybe 30 seconds after it happened. There was just a lot of smoke,” Mendyka said. “I pulled over because no emergency crews were there or anything. I asked the guy standing there if there was anybody in the Tahoe. There was a lady in there.”

The victim in the Tahoe was later identified as 43-year-old Lisa Chojnacki of Lake Orion, who had been heading to work at the General Motors Technical Center.

Mendyka said he yelled to her as the Grand Am started to burn nearby. Automotive fluids were dripping down all over the shattered Tahoe, which was flipped onto its passenger side by the force of the collision.

Chojnacki was still strapped in her seat but in an awkward position, since the Tahoe was on its side.

Mendyka said he crawled into the vehicle through the rear lift-gate window, and tried to make Chojnacki more comfortable.

“I looked in, and I saw her hair and her hands hanging down. The first thing I thought was to support her neck,” Mendyka said. “I climbed in and crouched up underneath her.”

Using his body to support hers, Mendyka said he asked Chojnacki if there was anyone she wanted him to call. He kept speaking to her, making small talk, and used his phone to call her husband as they waited for firefighters to arrive.

“She was conscious, and she was responding to my questions. I just kept her talking. She was bleeding a little bit,” Mendyka said. “The Fire Department came and said they were going to cut the roof off. They busted out the sunroof window. The lady kept asking me, ‘What happened? What happened?’ I told her, ‘You were in an accident, and everything’s fine.’”

Mendyka said he continued to help firefighters support Chojnacki while they brought a backboard into the vehicle.

Minutes later, she was on her way to the hospital, where Warren police said she was treated for her injuries, including a broken pelvis and a broken arm.

Mendyka said he never made it to the auto parts store. He went home instead. He waited until later that night to tell his wife, Debbie, what happened, even though she came home from work for lunch.

Warren Police Commissioner Jere Green said he hoped to recognize him somehow, but Mendyka didn’t leave his name when he called 911 to report the larceny at Speedway. And that was even before police were aware of his role in solving that caper.

Mendyka has already received a letter of recognition from the Warren Fire Department.

“When I read the letter, I was just blown away, in tears,” Debbie Mendyka said. “Not everyone would have jumped in like that. He’s really quick-thinking, and just has really good instincts.”

And while the Warren police can’t summon Batman with a red phone or a spotlight in the night sky, Mendyka’s tale proves that real heroes walk among us.

Sometimes, they’re dressed like police officers and firefighters. Sometimes, they’re dressed like retired guys getting ready to work on their truck.

“In mankind, certainly there’s still a segment out there that will rise to the occasion and help their fellow man,” Warren Deputy Police Commissioner Louis Galasso said. “I guess that’s a good thing, and a testament to the fabric of our community, and it certainly is refreshing to know that such courage, such courageous involvement, still exists.”

Mendyka praised the professional rescuers who came to the scene of the crash, and said he just hoped Chojnacki would recover fully and quickly.

He humbly avoided speculating about what prompted him to  act.

“Everybody asks me that. I don’t know what kicked in,” Mendyka said. He said it took some time to relax when he got back  home, after what started out as a normal day was derailed by chance.

“I was kind of hoping nothing else was going to pop up after those things,” Mendyka said. “I was just going to pick up a small part for my truck and work on it. That was going to be the end of my day. I just came back, and that was it. I settled down, and that was all.”

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Brian Louwers at brianlouwers@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1089.