Local teen saves crash victim’s life | News, Sports, Jobs – The Adirondack Daily Enterprise

Feb 28, 2024
Tanner Varden, left, and Ana Candelli meet up in person the day after Varden helped save Candelli’s life following a car crash on a snowy road in Brighton. (Provided photo — Karen Candelli)
BRIGHTON — Saranac Lake High School sophomore Tanner Varden wants to be an EMT or a nurse when he graduates, but at 15, he’s already saved one life.
After a frightening, snowy car crash on Split Rock Road two weeks ago, Paul Smith’s College senior Ana Candelli is urging authorities to install a guardrail there, and her mother, Karen Candelli, says Varden is a hero who helped save her daughter’s life during what was “a parent’s worst nightmare.”
Ana’s car slid off the snow-covered road during her commute on Feb. 16. The car flipped over, wedged between two trees in an embankment, and she fell unconscious upside down, suspended by the seat belt.
Varden was driving by with his step-father Glenn Strack when he saw Ana’s car and they sprang into action.
“Tanner saved my daughter’s life,” Karen said on Friday, tearing up.
She said his actions were admirable for anyone, but especially for a 15-year-old. Not just anyone would do that, she said.
As Karen drove up from Connecticut to see her daughter, she got photos of the wrecked vehicle Ana had recently been so proud to buy after getting her license to drive in July.
“As a mother, you can only imagine what my head was going through,” Karen said. “It’s a parent’s worst nightmare.”
But Ana was discharged from the hospital with just a concussion.
“There was not a hair out of place on her,” Karen said.
Ana said she’s physically fine on Monday. But she’s still dealing with the mental effects of the crash. It was a traumatic experience.

The crash

On Friday, Feb. 16, Ana was leaving class to go to work with the Red Cross in Morrisonville, Clinton County. It was snowing, so she took a different route than normal to avoid the more curvy roads. She said she was on the phone with her boyfriend — hands-free on Bluetooth, she clarified — and was going 30 miles per hour in a 55 zone, slowing down for a turn at the corner of Split Rock Road and county Route 55, where the Shamrock is.
Suddenly, the brakes weren’t working. She tried the emergency brake — nothing. She swerved, hit a pole and flipped. Still conscious and hanging upside down from the driver’s seat, she hung up with her boyfriend and called 911 before passing out.
The next thing she remembers is someone knocking on her window.
Varden was getting picked up from school early and on the way home when he saw tire tracks going off the road and a sign knocked down out of his window. He looked over the side of the road and saw a car, upside down, in a ditch, tangled in some trees.
He shouted to Strack to pull over and slid down the embankment to get to the car.
At this time, co-workers Harold Blanchard and Jesse Salls also stopped to help.
Varden knocked on the window but didn’t hear a response. He knocked again and saw Ana’s hand fall down. He was in shock. But they all moved fast. As a group, they all pried the door open and Varden stuck his head into the car. Ana came to, unbuckled her seat belt and fell to the ceiling. Varden started asking Ana if she could wiggle her toes, if her head hurt.
Varden said he’s not sure how long Ana had been there, but she must have been there for a while because her face and shoulders were red from the blood rushing down and pooling internally.
He helped her up to where she was standing on her passenger side door with her head poking out of the driver’s side door, held on his knees. He talked with her until the ambulance arrived.
Then he helped Saranac Lake Volunteer Rescue Squad member Cassitty Rose put a neck brace on Ana.
Varden said he hasn’t ever done anything like that before.
“I’m only 15,” he said.
But he does want to be an EMT or RN when he gets older.
“I watch a bunch of ‘Chicago Med’ and ‘Grey’s Anatomy,’” Varden said with a laugh.
Those shows informed him on keeping her neck stable and knowing what questions to ask.
Everyone involved doubted they’d ever see each other again. Karen said the folks who stopped were “miracles.”
“I didn’t think I was ever going to know who it was,” Varden said.

A chance meeting

It was providence that brought them together at the scene of the crash — Varden was leaving school early on the day they found Ana’s car.
And it was providence that brought them again the very next day.
Nearly exactly 24 hours after the crash, Strack and Varden were returning from a job interview Varden had at Dunkin’. The interview had been postponed.
They saw a woman taking photos of the crash site from the side of the road. It was Karen. They pulled up and asked if she knew the girl in the crash and Karen told them she’s her mother.
The two groups got to meet and Karen demanded she take Varden out for lunch.
“I’ll buy you a steak dinner. I’ll buy you a whole cow,” she said.
But Varden wanted McDonald’s.
“How do you thank these people? There’s not enough ‘thank yous,’” Karen said.
Ana said meeting Varden was a bit “overwhelming.” She was still recovering from her crash the day before. She didn’t really want to talk about it yet. It was too much.
“It was nice to get to know them. I just wasn’t ready,” Ana said.
Karen said Varden is an “amazing kid.”
“There was definitely a higher power. I believe in angels,” Karen said.
Karen’s mother died in 2016. Ana was close with her grandmother. Karen believes her mom held Ana until Varden and Strack arrived.

First- and second-responders

Ana told the Enterprise that she wanted to take this opportunity to publicly advocate for new safety measures on that bend in the road.
“I think they should put a guardrail there,” she said.
A firefighter told her there are many crashes at that location, especially in the snow.
“That corner comes up quick,” Varden said.
Varden isn’t sure if anyone else would have seen Ana’s car. People are mostly paying attention to the road around that corner, and not looking off into the ditches.
Ana works for the American Red Cross in Clinton, Franklin and Essex counties with a focus on Clinton County. She’s what she calls a “second-responder.” Once the first responders handle the emergency, she works with the people impacted by disaster — getting them funding and resources, making sure they have a place to stay, as well as comfort and essentials.
“I love it,” she said of her work.
Ana recently also acted as a civilian first-responder to a fire which destroyed a home and displaced a family on Tyler Road in Vermontville on Feb. 3. She saw smoke in the sky and knew it was a house fire from her experience.
The family whose home was burning was away for the day and the fire hadn’t been called in yet. She located the house and called 911. When the family returned she stayed with them, off-duty, but providing the Red Cross assistance she does for her job.
Around here, Ana said the Red Cross has a focus on home fire preparedness campaigns. She thinks they should also have a focus on road safety.
She’s from a big city in Connecticut where they don’t get snow like here.
“No one ever taught me how to drive in the snow,” she said.
Varden is a sophomore at Saranac Lake High School who recently moved from Tupper Lake. He is set to graduate with the Class of 2026. After that, he hopes to get into the medical field, and wants to focus on trauma response.
Ana is majoring in integrated studies — a combination of recreation, communications and sports and event management — as well as minoring in business and humanities.
She will graduate from Paul Smith’s College in May, a year ahead of schedule and with honors. Karen said she’s invited Varden to their family’s graduation dinner.
Ana plans to keep working with the Red Cross. After her term here is done, she plans to move somewhere without snow.
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