As Christmas approached each of the past two years, fate brought Rachael Boehme to the sides of strangers in distress -- first in the mountains and then in a valley.
A year ago, she aided a pregnant woman after a tree fell on her car at Steven Pass.
On Christmas Eve less than two weeks ago, she rescued two men trapped in an overturned pickup partially submerged in a ditch east of Everett.
"I just feel like I was doing what anyone else should do if they are the first person to an accident," said Boehme, 25, a former basketball player at Lake Stevens High School and Everett Community College.
On Christmas Eve morning 2013, Boehme went to a Seattle Hill neighborhood to take pictures of a home for a real estate company. Afterward, she decided to cut across the rural valley separating Everett from Snohomish. Her route led her onto Marsh Road, a sometimes curvy stretch she seldom drives.
"It was just a freak coincidence I was there," she said.
Boehme didn't see the pickup go off the roadway, but she did spot the steam from its engine rising from a water-filled ditch. The truck had rolled onto its top at the bottom of a 10-foot embankment.
The athletic young woman jumped from her car and slid down the hill to get to the truck. The muddy terrain was covered in brambles. The thorns stung her hands, causing them to bleed. She waded into the cold water, soaking her favorite pair of sneakers.
She could hear panicked cries for help from inside the overturned pickup. The men inside said they couldn't breathe. She didn't know the extent of their injuries.
Boehme tried in vain to open the driver-side door, but couldn't get it to budge.
The driver, 31, was able to roll down his window, but was stuck.
"I grabbed the collar of his sweatshirt and pulled hard," Boehme said. "As I started pulling him out, I could see his head under water."
His air bubble inside the cab was gone.
The man coughed up water after being pulled free. He urged her to rescue his 24-year-old cousin who was still inside the truck.
Boehme couldn't see the other man inside the pickup's submerged cab.
She yanked and yanked on the driver-side door. Finally, she pried it open just wide enough to pin her leg in the door jamb. She grabbed in the darkness of the water and pulled the man through the opening.
She helped him up the hill before scampering back down to stay with the driver until paramedics could arrive. As they waited, she helped the driver peel off some layers of his wet clothing on the nippy December morning. A passerby provided a blanket to help warm him up. Others called 911.
She helped paramedics carry the gurney up the hill. The driver was taken to Providence Regional Medical Center Everett. He was cited for negligent driving.
"I was just so thankful that they were OK," Boehme said.
A Snohomish County sheriff's deputy wrote in his incident report that Boehme "single-handedly freed the occupants who could not free themselves. They stated that they were trapped. The driver stated, 'I would have drowned if Rachael hadn't intervened.'"
Boehme shared her story with close friends and family, but didn't seek any recognition beyond her inner circle. She simply went on with her life and her part-time job coaching the Mountlake Terrace High School junior varsity girls basketball team.
"She would never boast about herself," said Cheri Speelman, a friend of Boehme. "She has a heart the size of Texas."
Her willingness to help strangers came as no surprise to Speelman. She knew she'd done it before.
As Christmas approached in December of 2012, a tree fell over snow-lined U.S. 2 near Stevens Pass. Five people inside an Audi were injured when the tree slammed onto the car's hood.
Boehme, who was with her sister and two young nieces two cars behind the Audi, was one of several people to offer aid that evening.
For the better part of an hour, Boehme tried to comfort a pregnant woman whose face was cut up and bleeding from the windshield's shards.
The woman who was about Boehme's age was frightened for the well-being of her husband, who was pinned beneath the steering wheel, and for the other passengers.
Boehme held a blanket around her. They talked about the importance of taking good calm breaths.
The wait for the ambulance seemed like an eternity.
That night, Boehme, her sister and her nieces backtracked after Stevens Pass was closed because of the dangerous conditions. Their detour over Snoqualmie Pass took five hours.
Boehme kept perspective. She was thankful it wasn't her and her loved ones in the crushed car.
"You are just happy to be able to go back to your healthy family," she said. "I just feel like I've been in the right place at the right time to help people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time."
Boehme hopes there wont' be a need for her to help others in peril any time soon.
If there is, she won't hesitate.
"I was just doing what I would want someone to do for my family," she said.
Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446, firstname.lastname@example.org
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