IDA TOWNSHIP, Mich. — When the car slipped off the blocks and fell on top of 74-year-old Ernie Monhollen, he figured the end was coming.
"I knew I was gone," Monhollen said. "If I would have been there by myself, I would have died. I know it."
But he wasn't alone. With him was his 15-year-old grandson Austin Smith, who found the strength to lift up that Buick and allow the man he calls "Papa" to crawl out. His injuries were severe, but he was alive.
"It happened very fast," said Austin, a freshman at Ida High School. "I just reacted. There was nothing else I could do."
It's an incredible story of family, faith and a burst of mysterious strength tied together with-ifs: If Austin hadn't been dropped off that Saturday morning at his grandparents' home; if Monhollen hadn't discovered a leak under the car; or if Austin had panicked, the outcome could have been much different.
As it was, Monhollen suffered a 6-inch gash across his face, a broken eye socket, four missing teeth and three cracked ribs. But he is alive. He and his wife, Nancy, believe that divine intervention gave Austin enough strength to lift that car.
"The Lord was right there with him,"? Nancy said. "This truly is a miracle."
On Saturday morning, Austin was visiting his grandparents as he often does. That 1991 Buick Century was sitting there and Monhollen decided to get it back on the road for one of his grandkids.
With Austin pumping the brake pedal, Monhollen was on the outside bleeding the brakes. The car was up on concrete blocks when Monhollen noticed a leak. He decided to investigate.
"I had no intention of getting under that car," he said. "But there was a leak, so I decided I'll take a look."
Austin was outside the car. When his grandfather grabbed the front end from underneath to pull himself out, the car suddenly dropped, trapping him underneath.
"He was screaming,"? Austin said.
"I thought that was it," Monhollen said. "I thought my whole skull was caved in."
Then the teen went into action. Knowing he had only seconds and assisted only by adrenaline, he lifted the front end of the car. With its six-cylinder engine, it probably weighs around 2,500 pounds. Yet he lifted and shoved it backward. Monhollen, dazed and bleeding profusely, managed to crawl from beneath.
Austin then ran into the house and yelled for his grandmother to call 911. That began the chaos.
"I thought he was dead," Monhollen said. "I just panicked."
"She always thinks of the worst things that can happen," said Austin's older sister, Allison.
"Thank God for Austin," Monhollen added. "He just kept his cool. He was trying to calm me down."
Monhollen praised the Ida volunteer firefighters for rushing to the house to help. Within minutes, Monhollen was in an ambulance headed for the hospital where he received at least 50 stitches to close the wound.
Even though he's an athlete and works out, Austin said there's no way he could lift that car again. He doesn't know where that calm, cool and collect demeanor came from.
"He didn't get it from me," said his dad, Tim Smith.
For Monhollen, it was a lousy way to spend his birthday. But he also knows that it could have been much worse. Doctors were planning to remove the stitches today and he is expected to make a full recovery.
Both grandparents are so proud of Austin and how he handled the entire situation. He's a regular at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church and his grandmother said the hand of God was surely present that morning when her grandson found the strength to lift the car.
"I've never seen anything like it," Monhollen said. "And I never will again."
"It's a miracle he got that car off me," Monhollen added.
One thing is certain: Monhollen is never getting underneath a car again.
"I don't think I'll even let him change a tire," Monhollen said.
Information from: The Monroe Evening News, http://www.monroenews.com