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Tilly Tooter Holds News Briefing on Remarkable Story of Survival

Aired August 18, 2000 - 11:00 a.m. ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Tilly Tooter, the grandmother who survived, she's live in Florida meeting with reporters, and Al Gore and Joe Lieberman on the campaign trail.

Here now, Tilly Tooter live in Fort Lauderdale.

QUESTION: And you also say you are here because you attribute your Brooklyn background to your survival?

TILLY TOOTER, RESCUED GRANDMOTHER: That was just a funny thing to say, but I came from a very, very -- I don't know how to explain this neighborhood, but a rough neighborhood to grow up in.

QUESTION: Tilly, tell us how you survived for those three days trapped in that car all alone, tell us what you did during that time that you were all alone inside your Toyota?

TOOTER: I screamed, I ranted, I raved, I swore, I cursed and I pleaded and I begged for somebody, for God, for my mother, for somebody to help me, to get me out of there.

QUESTION: How did you survive that time?

TOOTER: I have a Halls cough drops in my bag which I was able to reach, and I had a peppermint candy, and I had a stick of gum, fruited gum, if it matters, and I sucked on each thing a little bit every couple of hours until I ran out of that, and I sucked on a button to produce moisture in my mouth, which I had heard a long time ago that it would help.

QUESTION: Did you ever think you were not going to make it?

TOOTER: Oh yes, oh yes. Just before he stuck his head over the roads, and I saw his head, up until that minute, that morning I had made my peace with myself and I said I was dying.

QUESTION: And when Justin Peneli (ph), seen right here, yelled down at you, what did you think? a voice from up above? the seeming wilderness...

TOOTER: I screamed and I screamed, they didn't hear me, but I heard them say the police are coming, we have called the police, and I knew then that I had a chance to live. Another way that I was able to survive, I have this wheel cover with me from my wheel -- on the steering wheel, and I had a pair of golf socks on my stick shift. I took them off, and when I put them in here and when it rained, the few times, I let the water run because the rain was coming right into the car all over me, I was soaked, but I didn't get any in my mouth and I sucked on the socks to get every drop of water out of it, and that's how I lived.

QUESTION: What about telepathy with your sister, you communicated with your sister, your daughter told me?

TOOTER: I have a sister that lives in California and we've always had mental telepathy and I tried using that with her that she should know where I am. I tried mental telepathy with my granddaughter and my daughter, I kept saying, think, think, concentrate, I'm on 595, under the road of 595.

QUESTION: What were you asking them?

TOOTER: Come back. Come back, because I knew they had been there at some time, I knew they were looking for me.

QUESTION: But did you ever go through periods from the first day to the last day where you were optimistic and then you were depressed, I mean, were you up and down?

TOOTER: Oh, in the beginning I fought like hell, of course. In the beginning I said, I've got to wait until somebody comes for me.

QUESTION: Tilly, this is a remarkable story of your survival and the whole world has been watching this, you are alive, what is it like to be here alive speaking, talking, loved ones next to you?

TOOTER: To me, it's a miracle that I'm here, because I didn't expect to be. It's the most wonderful thing in the world and my faith has been restored in human kindness.

QUESTION: What happened that morning on the freeway, can you tell us what you remember about what happened?

TOOTER: I was going to the airport to pick up my granddaughter and grandson and I was going 50 miles an hour because I had time to kill, in the right lane, and I'm sailing along very nicely, and out of nowhere this -- I felt that terrible jolt and my car kept turning over, and me with it, of course. And then the tremendous drop, and when I landed I was hanging by my seat belt and I had to release the belt, so I fell down and I was in a space that narrow. Now, I am not thin, and I was cramped.

QUESTION: Tilly, what would you like to say to that person that apparently hit you and took off? They are looking for that person, what would you like to say, are you upset, you are angry, what would you like to say?

TOOTER: I'm very angry. I'm very angry and hurt that anybody could do anybody could do anything like that and leave, and I hope he gets what he deserves, that's all.

QUESTION: How are you feeling now?

TOOTER: I beg your pardon?

QUESTION: How are you feeling now?

TOOTER: About what? in general?

QUESTION: Medically, how are you feeling?

TOOTER: I'm happy to be here, because I never thought I'd see another human being again, and it's a wonderful feeling, and everybody here at the hospital has been so absolutely wonderful, the paramedics, the police, everybody, they were just wonderful to me.

QUESTION: Tilly, you wrote a letter to your daughter, your granddaughter?

TOOTER: I have a receipt for the Publix grocery, and I just wrote a few words on it, it was very personal.

QUESTION: So we won't ask you what you said.

TOOTER: It was for my granddaughter.

QUESTION: They were by your side here, it means so much to you that so many people were expressing a love and a caring for you, folks, Century Village throughout South Florida you've been getting e- mails, what has this outpouring meant to you personally, all these people caring about you, Tilly?

TOOTER: I think it's wonderful. I think it is a marvelous thing that people care that much. My faith in human beings has been restored. This outpouring of love from everybody, people that I don't know are sending me cards and letters and flowers, I don't know these people, and that's the truth.

QUESTION: Just being alive is such a precious thing, isn't it?

TOOTER: The most precious thing in the world. I will say this, nobody should ever drive without a seat belt, which saved my life, and you should always have water in your car. To me, a cup of water right now is Manna from heaven.

QUESTION: How are you feeling, I mean, obviously you have the bumps and bruises and the bug bites, but how are you feeling?

TOOTER: How was I feeling?

QUESTION: How are you feeling now?

TOOTER: How am I feeling now? I'm itching all over, I'm black and blue, but I don't care, I'm here.

QUESTION: Tilly, you said that it was a miracle that you survived, but I talked to Charlotte and Bea (ph) and Phyliss (ph) back at Century Village and they said if anybody could do it it was only you out of the four golden girls.

TOOTER: Well, I guess I have a certain amount of strength and I use it when I need it.

QUESTION: You are a tough lady, your loved ones say, from Brooklyn, you spent your teenage years in the Depression, you survived tough times, and they said, if anybody can make it, Tilly can make it, right?

TOOTER: Well, when you live to be 83 -- you are all young people and I hope you all make it. When you live to be 83, you have seen and done a lot of things, and you pick up a lot of little wisdom, a lot of little things that help you to get through the tough times.

HEMMER: Best story of the day, Tilly Tooter, 83-year-old grandmother there in Florida, on the way to the airport late Saturday morning at 2:00 a.m., was knocked off 595, the interstate in Southern Florida, rescued three and a half days later, an amazing story and a woman with a lot of charm.



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