TRAVERSE CITY — The last time Darryl Nelson saw Sterling Sokolski he wasn’t sure she would live, he wasn’t sure he had done the right thing.
She had suffered terrible injuries in a car wreck, ones worse than any the experience seen before. He held her tiny body, limp and lifeless as the girl lost her grasp on life.
“Sterling,” he said over and over, as if trying to call her back.
Hers is a name that sticks with him 13 years later.
Nelson shut the rear door on the ambulance that carried the 3-year-old girl to the hospital that cold January day in 2000 and he wondered if he would ever see her again.
Tuesday, Nelson, 51, officially met Sokolski for the first time.
Now 17, Sokolski embraced Nelson like she would a long-lost family member. The Kalkaska High School junior always knew Nelson only as “the guy who saved my life.”
Her mother, Sonya Reimer, carried Nelson’s business card in her purse for years, but she didn’t muster the courage to dial his number until recently.
She wouldn’t know the guy if she bumped into him along the street, yet, she owes one of the most important parts of her life to him — her 17-year-old daughter.
Reimer kept it for the better part of the past 13 years, looking at it from time to time and contemplating dialing Nelson’s number.
“I just put it off and put it off and put it off,” she said. “I just never got the nerve to call him. I just realized there is nothing I can do that can thank him.”
Reimer had driven past the site of the wreck — the intersection of Bunker Hill Road and U.S. 31 — hundreds of times. She would point to the store Nelson managed when the wreck happened and would tell Sokolski about the man who saved her life.