First, the car burst into flames while she was inside it. Then, just after she escaped, it exploded.
Since surviving the sudden destruction of her 1984 Corvette in June, Patty Tonn of Glendale has come to see herself as a walking miracle.
Tonn had been to the Wolf Creek Inn for lunch on Father’s Day. The accident occurred in her driveway on her return home.
She has two garages, and was right next to the lower garage but wanted to drive the Corvette to the upper garage on the other side of her house. She applied the gas to move farther up the driveway but the car didn’t respond, so she pressed down on the accelerator.
Instantly, she was enveloped in fire. The whole car, including the passenger compartment, was in flames.
“I saw the steering wheel burn off. The steering column burnt off. It melted right in front of me, and the steering wheel hit the floor at the same time that I hit the frame of the car with my elbows. Because my seat had burned up underneath me,” she said.
Tonn kicked open the door, the locking mechanism of which was also melting. She quickly scrambled away from the car, making it as far as a deer fence about 8 feet from the car.
She turned around to look at the flaming vehicle. That’s when it exploded. The explosion pushed the car 3 feet into the air and moved it 10 feet in the opposite direction from where Tonn was standing.
“If it would have come the other way, it would have hit me,” Tonn said.
The car landed in the forest and started a fire there, burning about a tenth of an acre. Firefighters with the Douglas Forest Protective Association and Glendale Rural Fire Department responded at about 3 p.m. and spent about an hour putting the forest fire out.
There’s still a charred area Tonn sees every time she opens her back door. The burn scorched earth 14 inches deep and cracked the siding of the garage. Thankfully, most of the siding closest to the fire was metal.
Tonn had second-degree burns on her elbows and broken ribs from the impact of the explosion. Her clothes and the pair of sandals she was wearing were still intact.
The next time Tonn went to church, where she teaches Sunday school at Sunny Valley Outreach Ministry, she taught a lesson about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, three men who the Bible said survived a den of fire where they’d been thrown by the king of Babylon for refusing to worship an idol.
“I told the little kids they didn’t have cell phones to document stuff back then, but I’m real sure it happened,” she said.
Tonn said she was told the temperature inside the car would have been between 1,200 and 1,800 degrees.
“I thought, ‘Well, God was protecting me. Had to have been,’” she said.
This experience reinforced her belief in the importance of helping other people.
“I have a young mother with a premature baby living with me right now. I have taken people into my home before. I’m pretty sure that was the reason that God said not yet,” she said.
Tonn believes the cause of the fire was that the Corvette, like many high-performance cars, had a magnesium block that is highly flammable and explosive. When she pressed the accelerator, it probably sprayed gas on the block.
“That’s what the fire marshal told me. Not a very good promo for Corvettes, but boy they are nice cars,” she said.
Tonn said she does not plan to get another Corvette.
The car belonged to her second husband Richard Tonn, who passed away in 2016. It was a beautiful car, she said, black with ghost flames painted on the side. She had hoped to drive it until she was 90.
There isn’t much left of it. When the salvage place called to pick up the Corvette, she told them they’d better bring a lot of big, black garbage bags because most of it was powdered. They thought she was teasing them, but she wasn’t.
Unlike her car, Tonn said she’s in good condition now. She’s healed up pretty well.
One other thing partially survived the fire. She had a Bible in there with her. All of it burned up, except for the book of Isaiah. She has a feeling that’s a message of some kind, but she’s not sure what it means.
“I’ve studied it a lot since then,” she said.