WASHINGTON COUNTY - Paula Marin had just bought her new vehicle when Hurricane Irma began making its way toward the Florida Peninsula. The single Fort Myers resident heeded evacuation advisements, packing up most of her belongings, along with her two beloved dogs, and heading to Mississippi - the nearest place she could locate an available hotel room.
Little did she know, a wreck on I-10 would total the new vehicle she had hoped to protect - and bring her in contact with some very special first responders.
According to reports, Marin was traveling on her way back to Fort Meyers Tuesday, September 19, when she fell asleep at the wheel around mile marker 107 east, between Caryville and Bonifay.
Her vehicle overturned, traveling about 400 yards before coming to a final rest on its driver's side.
Both Holmes and Washington County emergency responders arrived on scene, finding Marin climbing out of the vehicle, clutching one of her dogs. The other had been thrown from the vehicle, nowhere to be found.
Marin would ultimately be treated and released at Doctors Memorial Hospital for minor injuries, but the crash was just the beginning of her story here. She would soon find herself amazed at the actions of several local residents.
Bonifay Firefighter and City Councilman Travis Cook was among those who responded to the crash.
"She was very upset about her missing dog," said Cook. "She just didn't want to leave, so we decided to help."
Cook took the dog Marin pulled from the wreckage to his home while Marin was treated, and Cook's father and fellow firefighter, Larry Cook, called in reinforcements in the form of local residents, including Deanna Thomas, who assisted by bringing ATVs. Together, the father and son and several other volunteers would ultimately spend about eight hours over two days volunteering their time to search for the dog.
"It was obviously important to her," said Travis Cook. "I have never seen anyone who did not want to give up like that. And all I could think is that if my wife was stranded somewhere, I would want someone to help her, to do all they could."
The missing dog was eventually safely located by Marin herself, about a mile from the scene, but she expressed her amazement at the efforts of those who worked tirelessly to help.
Cook drove Marin to a Chipley hotel, where she rested until she could make her way back home, taking with her a reminder that the kindness of strangers is still alive and well in her home state.