A Chelsea mother who spent about 35 hours lost in Shelby County woods after a car crash remembers most of the ordeal, and said she survived praying trying to find a way to safety.
Lisa Holman, 45, was found alive Sunday morning after crashing at 9:30 p.m. Friday on County Road 36 in Pelham. Her rescue ended a frightful weekend when her family feared the worst.
“Believe in the power of prayer,” Holman’s sister, Kathy Holman Caufield, told AL.com Monday. “I believe angels were watching over her and protecting her every step of the way. I don’t have any shadow of doubt about that.”
Holman was traveling from visiting a friend in Helena when, about one mile from home, lost control of her car in a dark curve on rain-slicked roads and careened down a 20-foot embankment.
She knew she had crashed, and put the car in park, her sister said. Then she lost consciousness. “She doesn’t know for how long but when she came to, she thought the car might explode and she knew she had to get out,” Caufield said.
There was no way for her to get out of the driver’s side door. It was smashed and unusable. Not knowing that she had a badly-broken clavicle (the bone connecting the shoulder to the breastbone), six cracked ribs, a fractured C7 vertebrae, and a lacerated spleen, Holman climbed into the back seat and freed herself through a rear door.
“She stumbled out of the car and went 10 or so feet, put her purse down and decided she needed to try to find help,” Caufield said. She placed her purse, which held her cell phone, back in the car and kicked off her Yellow Box wedge sandals so she wouldn’t turn her ankle walking for help.
Holman walked for a while, but eventually realized she should have already reached help. “She turned around thinking she was going back to where her car was,” Caufield said. “She ended up at a marshy area, but she didn’t want to walk through that. It was actually right beside her car.”
“She then turned around to go another direction and that is when she started heading 180 degrees away from the road,” Caufield said. “She said just wandered that whole first night.”
At daybreak, before the heavy rains started again, Holman found a rock overhang. “She said, ‘I couldn’t walk anymore, and I was hurt,”’ her sister said. “She crouched under there like an animal would have. She said she slept off and on. She said time passed quicker than you would have thought.”
Holman recalls watching some squirrels for a bit but told family she didn’t spend her time just enjoying nature. “She said she prayed the entire time,” she said. “She just knew she had to get out and get help.”
But Holman thought about it more and decided maybe she should stay put. “She was scared to leave that shelter,” Caufield said. “She said she never worried about animals, like coyotes, or snakes, or spiders or ant beds.”
About the time Holman found shelter, her 17-year-old son Jackson and Caufield found Holman’s crashed vehicle. Jackson was the one to spotted it and frantically told Caufield, who was driving. “Just hearing the anguish in his voice,” Caufield said, becoming emotional. Afraid of what they’d find, she ordered Jackson to stay where he was and call 911.
“I fell down the hill trying to get to her,” Caufield said. “I finally ripped the (car) door open and she’s not in there.”
Seeing the damage, Caufield assumed her sister had been ejected. She looked under the vehicle, and then immediately around it and there was actually some relief that she didn’t find her there.
Once Caufield saw her sister’s purse, carefully placed where it was and not tossed about, and very little blood, “I knew then that she made it out.”
Caufield and Jackson repeatedly called area hospitals. “We called them multiple times,” she said. “I know we drove them crazy.”
Friends and family had several working theories: Holman was lost in the woods; Holman had been abducted, and Holman had been hit by a car while walking for help.
It wasn’t long before the cavalry arrived: Pelham police and firefighters and Shelby County sheriff’s deputies. Many others would soon join in: the Shelby County EMA, the Chelsea Fire Department, the Childersburg Rescue Squad, the Alexander City Rescue Squad, Regional Paramedic Service, SAR K9’s of Alabama, the American Red Cross and Red Mountain Search Dog Association. Throngs of volunteers – family, friends, strangers – also were allowed to help later in the day.
The initial search focused on a 200-foot circumference of Holman’s car and then 20 yards on either side of the road, Caufield said. Because of the weather, they couldn’t put a helicopter in the air. The weather also was hampering drone efforts because the state wouldn’t allow them to fly. Private drones were brought in and, later, the Vestavia Hills Police Department’s drone with infrared capabilities.
“They flew the drones over there the whole afternoon and night,” Caufield said. “They found several heat sources, but they were transformers and deer. Lisa was under the rock.”
At one point Saturday afternoon, Caufield said, Holman heard the hum of the searchers’ all-terrain vehicles. She cried out, but of course they couldn’t hear her over the engine noise.
Ultimately, the search was called off for the night and was set to resume Sunday morning. Law enforcement announced that any volunteer searchers meet at Chelsea High School at 6 a.m. Sunday.
Caufield spent Saturday night at her sister’s home with Jackson, and Holman’s 15-year-old daughter Anna Grace. The teens’ friends poured into the home to comfort Jackson and Anna Grace. “I’m a mom and you love knowing your kids have a strong support system,” she said. “Seeing all of their friends there, loving on them, it was just comforting to know they have that.”
Still, it was a long night for Caufield, who wrote this just before 2:30 a.m. Sunday: “I’m sitting here. In my sister’s house. The quietness is deafening. My heart is broken. My spirit is broken. My hope is gone. The unknown is tearing me apart…Is she cold? Is she hurting? Does she know we are desperately trying to find her? Is she alive? Did someone take her? How can you vanish after being in such a horrible car accident? So. Many. Questions.”
On Sunday morning, Caufield and her husband headed over to Chelsea High School because they wanted to thank those who had gathered there to search. Authorities on Monday said 482 volunteers signed up to help.
By the time she got there, the first teams had already been dispatched out. They visited with a few friends, but Caufield was anxious to get to the command post where first responders were gathered.
It was on their way there that they got news Holman had been found. The first teams out that morning were calling her name and she heard. This time, they were able to hear her. She was found about 700 feet from her wrecked car.
“I’m basically jumping up and down in the car,” Caufield said.
The first teams went out at 7:15 a.m., again accompanied by tracking dogs and drones. At 8:14 a.m., the radioed in that Holman had been found.
Holman, Caufield said, remained strong throughout the entire ordeal. She said she wasn’t particularly emotional while she was lost, but it all is hitting her now. “She has been emotional with me overnight,” she said.
Holman got on social media Sunday night and read all the thoughts and prayers that had been cast her way over the weekend. Caufield, on the couch in her sister’s hospital room, looked over at one point and saw tears streaming down Holman’s face. “I asked her what had touched her,” Caufield said. “She didn’t realize the scale it had gone to. I think of it, the what-ifs, is sinking in.”
The entire family is touched by the outpouring of love and support shown to them throughout the search and beyond. So many stories of humanity surfaced – including searcher Ryan Brown who gave up his shoes and jacket so that Holman could walk herself out of the woods to where the ambulance was waiting. A Snapchat showed a barefoot Brown walking on the roadway, symbolizing the spirit of all searchers.
“We tried to give them back to him, but he said those are his lucky work boots and he wants Lisa to keep them,” Caufield said.
Holman will undergo surgery today for her clavicle. It’s unclear how long she will be hospitalized.
“We’ll never be able to express our gratitude to everyone who has called, texted and prayed,” Caufield said. “Thank you seems so inadequate.”
Pelham Police Chief Larry Palmer said though they train and practice for such events. “I like to stay up to speed on tactics and procedures and practice those things on a daily basis,” he said. “But between being good and being lucky, I’ll take lucky over good any day of the week.”
It was a relief, he said, to hear, “I’m over here. I’m OK.”
He and other first responders visited Holman in the hospital Monday. He said she expressed gratitude and said she didn’t deserve all of the fuss. Palmer disagreed, saying Holman is an active volunteer in the community who does a lot of good for a lot of people.
“We’re lucky and glad to have her back,” the chief said. “I think we witnessed a miracle.”