On December 22, 2017, Gull Lake Middle School Guidance Counselor, Kim Ditto and Gull Lake Community Schools School Resource Officer, Adam Kelm made an astonishing discovery. Though Ditto had worked with Kelm during the short time he’d served with the district, the pair’s paths had crossed eight and a half years before, when a calamitous event brought them together.
The conversation began casually enough–the two were discussing how Kelm’s mother suffered from severe headaches after sustaining an injury from a car accident–when Ditto admitted that she also was afflicted by migraines as a consequence of her own accident.
Ditto said her comment seemed to immediately catch Kelm’s attention, and as he began to press her for more information regarding the events surrounding her crash, she saw something “click” in the back of his mind.
“I ask a lot of questions, because it’s my job,” Kelm said. “So when I started hearing her talk about it [the accident], I was like ‘Wait, what year was that?’ and then, ‘Okay, I was working.’”
Kelm continued to extract details from Ditto’s story, connecting the dots as he went; however, it wasn’t until she divulged the location of her accident–the intersection between Sixth Street and H Avenue–that he could at last catch a glimpse of the entire picture.
During the 17 years he’s served as a Kalamazoo County officer, Kelm said he’s worked three serious accidents at that particular intersection. After rushing to his vehicle to check his reports, he realized that Ditto’s crash, was in fact, the very first of those three.
“That intersection is an intersection that makes the hair on my neck stand up every time I drive through it,” he said.”It’s a one way street for Sixth Street and H [Avenue] has a stop sign, and even if I have the right of way, I almost come to a complete stop, because it’s a really poorly set up intersection.”
However, according to Ditto, as she and her son drove home from a basketball game on the muggy evening of June 22, 2009, the stop sign at H Avenue had been obscured by debris from a storm the weekend before.
“I can kind of have a flashback of thinking like ‘I’m pretty sure there was a stop sign there,” she said.
Upon impact, Ditto’s vehicle careened between two trees and landed on its side in a ditch.
Kelm said he’d been only a few hours into his shift when he was dispatched to the scene, after a passerby called in the crash. Though the call initially came out as an “Unknown PI” (person injured) accident, he learned on the way there that the crash involved “rollover and entrapment.”
“Any time I start hearing that is usually what makes my foot hit the gas a little faster,” he said.
Kelm was the first emergency responder to arrive at the scene. While surveying his surroundings, Kelm said Ditto’s son approached him and explained that she was still trapped inside her car.
“He [Ditto’s son] got out of the car on his own, and he cut himself getting out of the car,” Ditto said. “He didn’t have a wound until he got himself out of the car.”
When Kelm first approached Ditto’s vehicle, he said he didn’t know whether Ditto was alive.[perfectpullquote align=”right” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]“People talk about near death experiences, and I never really connected it so much,” Ditto said. “I remember–I’m pretty sure I was in my happy place, ready just to like kind of exit this world.”[/perfectpullquote]
“Then [she] did start to make noises, and I could see that [she was] breathing, which was amazing,” he said.
According to Kelm, the rescue personnel had to use the Jaws of Life (an apparatus whose purpose is to pry open the wreckage of crashed cars) to extract Ditto from her vehicle. Though Ditto cannot recall much else from the crash itself, she said she remembers the emergency workers counting as they prepared to pull her from her car.
When working the scene of a crash, Kelm said he cuts out his emotions so he can perform his job effectively, and while his first priority is to save lives, he said he must investigate the accident as well. It wasn’t until immediately after clearing the scene he said he began to wonder about Ditto’s condition.
Ditto regained consciousness in the hospital around an hour and a half after the accident. She suffered from a dislocated shoulder, broken ribs and a traumatic brain injury as a result to a laceration on the top of her head.
“I actually went to the hospital afterwards to find out how she was doing,” he said.
However, Kelm also said he was unable to follow up any further beyond this visit to the hospital, and as with the countless other lives he’d briefly touched while serving as an officer, he was left to wonder how Ditto would spend the rest of hers.
“There’s always this constant unfinished story that happens with these things for me–crimes, accidents, anything,” he said.
Of course, this is what Kelm said is one of the most beautiful things about reconnecting with Ditto so many years after the accident–he has been given the opportunity to witness how the rest of her story unfolds.
“I have the job where I never get to see what people do,” he said. “Like I get into somebody’s life, and I see them live, and I’m like ‘I hope they have a great life and I never get to find out.”
Kelm said he still struggles to wrap his mind around the fact that he was present at a time when Ditto’s life was in jeopardy, and now has the privilege to watch as she touches the lives of so many kids with ceaseless dedication–something he too is passionate about.
“If that was the only thing I did, it makes everything worth it,” he said.
Ditto said she is overwhelmed by gratitude at finally discovering the identity of her “Angel.”
“For me, making the connection was huge,” she said., “… and the fact that that’s the person that helped save your life is kind of a big deal, like it’s a really big deal to me.”
Kelm said he was proud to have been there that day, now almost nine years ago.
“It was an honor to save someone like [Kim] that day,” he said. “Every time I see [her], I don’t ever look at [her] the same. I look at [her] like we just have a connection. I feel like I was meant to meet again, and I don’t take that lightly.”
- My name is Marleigh Thorn. This is my third year on The Reflection staff, and I have the pleasure to be the Senior Editor. I have a passion for telling stories, and writing for our school newspaper allows me to do that. Being on The Reflection's staff has shown me how much I love sharing my words with others. I hope to continue reporting as I leave high school, and one day write for a major news agency.
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