Good Samaritan WSP sergeant hosts German family on 49-state road trip after crash
For a brief moment last Friday, the road trip of a lifetime turned into the disaster of a lifetime for the Fischer family of Oldenburg, Germany. But a gesture from a Washington State Patrol sergeant soon turned the terrible experience into a wonderful memory to take back to Europe.
The Fischers — dad Benjamin, mom Melanie, and their kids Jakob, 15, Emilie, 13, Linus, 10, and Eli, 7 — set out last August to discover the United States off the beaten track.
In just a truck and attached RV, they are hitting all 49 continental U.S. states in one year, an adventure documented on their YouTube channel, 50in365.
It was a chance to gain a deeper understanding of the United States than a typical 10-day trip to tourist hotspots like New York, L.A., or Las Vegas might afford. With 365 days on the road, the family gets to see the small towns that make up the often unseen heart and soul of America.
A road trip to see the true America
The Fischers have a deep connection to and love for the U.S. already. In high school, Benjamin was an exchange student here in Washington. Later, he and Melanie, who are both dual citizens, studied at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, and remained in America until about 10 years ago.
Because they felt German media repeatedly showed a negative portrayal of Americans in response to recent political events, they decided to show their children that the version of average Americans presented on TV and social media is not necessarily reality.
“What they see on TV is not the truth and it’s not really what it’s like … [Melanie and I] realized, hey, we need to go over there so our kids could get to know the states and especially the people that we love and know over here,” Benjamin said.
They started the road trip in Florida last August, then hit the Northeast, the Midwest, and circled back to New England; then came the South, the Southwest, the Rockies, Western Canada, Alaska, and then last but certainly not least, the Pacific Northwest.
They’ve been hitting historical sights and national parks, and incorporating this up-close and hands-on cultural education into the kids’ year of home-schooling. The children are enjoying the Junior Ranger program at the U.S. National Parks, collecting over 60 badges so far.
In every location of the road trip, they make videos in both English and German, so that those they meet can follow their journey.
“One of the most amazing parts of our journey is just meeting people, and just when there’s trouble, how many people are willing to help out,” Benjamin said.
Catastrophe in the 49th state
Never did that sentiment become more apparent than this past weekend. After spending some time with Benjamin’s brother in Vancouver, B.C., the family crossed back into the U.S. to hit the final leg of the road trip in Washington and Oregon. They spent a week exploring their former home of Seattle, Mount Rainier, Mount St. Helens, and the Washington State capital in Olympia before heading to Fort Stevens State Park, just across the Columbia River in Oregon.
But just two miles from the Washington-Oregon border, one of the trailer wheels slid on grass, causing the trailer to pull the truck into a ditch, in what Washington State Patrol Sergeant Bradford Moon called a “tail wagging the dog” motion.
“It seemed like slow motion — you know what’s happening, but there’s nothing you can do,” Melanie said. “You can only hold on and basically wait — there’s nothing you can do about it.”
“I saw us driving into this ditch, and the first thing I thought was just when we were laying there, was, ‘How are we going to get out?'” Jakob recalled. “Because my door was not willing to open up, and my seat-belt wouldn’t open because I was hanging on it, and under the pressure it wouldn’t open.”
Thankfully, the parents and children were alright. Ten-year-old Linus immediately climbed out the sunroof and ran to the road to wave down passersby. The rest of the family, who followed Linus out the sunroof, was amazed with how quickly people stopped to help.
“By the time we were able to get unbuckled, there were already people there helping us out of the vehicle making sure that we were okay,” Benjamin said.
A family in the process of moving from Tacoma to Texas was the first to stop. They gave Eli a pair of shoes since his were lost in the crash. Because of the way the RV had fallen, much of the family’s clothing, furniture, and other items were scattered throughout the ditch. The kids’ room and closet were at the part of the trailer that suffered the most extensive damage, sending their clothes flying outside.
“It appeared that the family had pretty much just lost everything,” Sgt. Moon said.
With the help of first responders, generous passers-by, and Sgt. Moon’s wife Shawna, who drove to the scene from their home in nearby Cathlamet to help out, the Fischers were able to salvage some of their possessions and gather them in garbage bags before the tow truck arrived. Unfortunately, the truck and trailer were deemed totaled.
With both their mode of transport and their yearlong home lying in a ditch, the Fischers needed to find a place to stay and a way to travel. But on a holiday weekend in a rural area, car rental agencies were closed, and most motels were booked up.
That’s when the Moons stepped forward with an offer to save the day; the Fischers could stay with their family — sons Isaac, 17, Eli, 16, Gabe, 15, and Josh, 9 — for the next several days in the gym attached to Shawna’s parents’ home across the street. It was a room big enough not only for them to sleep in, but also to lay out and sort through their remaining possessions.
Bradford and Shawna Moon said that it was their Christian faith, along with the incredibly positive attitude of the Fischer family in spite of the catastrophe in front of them, that motivated them to act as Good Samaritans along to the road to a family in need.
“They’re just very impressive with the faith and the demeanor they had, and it made it very easy for my wife and I to take that step,” Bradford said. “It felt right to us, it felt like a good thing.”
Cultural exchange and lifelong friends
In a way, it was like fate when the six Fischers came to stay with the six Moons. Both families have four children of similar ages, and in fact, both have sons named Eli. Little Eli Fischer has “attached himself” to teenage Eli Moon, according to Benjamin and Melanie. All eight kids have become fast friends.
“They’ve been playing, and I think they’ve gotten to know each other really well,” Benjamin said. “And I think that has helped our kids get over this whole experience really quickly.”
At the time of his interview on Tuesday, Bradford said that the kids were outside taking part in a scavenger hunt designed by Jakob.
“It’s been, I can’t say anything other than rewarding — to meet the family, to have the experiences, the way my kids have just kicked in and the friendships [they’ve made] … it’s just had an impact on my entire family,” Bradford said.
Already, the families have bonded so much that they feel they have known each other for years.
“It doesn’t seem like we just met them on Friday,” Melanie said.
The holiday weekend gave the Fischers the chance to experience classic American activities in a regular household, like seeing post-July-4th fireworks and eating s’mores around the campfire.
And in a true cross-borders exchange, the Moons got to learn about Germany, a place they have not visited. Now the youngest Moon, 9-year-old Josh, says that he wants to take four years of German in high school so that he can go stay with his new friends in Oldenburg. Likewise, Jakob and Emilie want to live in the U.S. — like their parents, they may one day attend college here.
“The rest of it has kind of been just a terrific adventure of getting to know this family and another culture … It’s been fun to share our world with them, and just to see different things, and they’ve shared a lot about their culture and what Germany is like,” Bradford said. “It’s been good for my kids.”
Now with a rented van, the Fischers are bidding their hosts farewell and taking the last leg of their road trip journey; they will be driving down the Oregon Coast to Northern California, through the Redwood Forest, then to Utah to see friends before flying home. While they had originally intended to see all 50 states, last weekend’s accident and a recent family tragedy back in Germany meant they had to cut out Hawaii and return home sooner.
The Fischers will always fondly remember their time with the Moons in Washington, and the way in which one family’s selflessness to complete strangers turned a terrible accident into a serendipitous, one-of-a-kind visit.
“The kindness we’ve received from the Moon family … It’s just been wonderful to get to know them,” Benjamin said. “I truly think we’ll be lifelong friends.”
Chris Loftis, communications director for WSP, said that Moon exemplifies the agency’s motto, “service with humility.”
“He did this out of kindness, and my office are the ones that wanted the story to be told, not him. Taking a family from another country into your home so they can recover from and navigate one of life’s challenges speaks well of him as a person and a trooper,” Loftis said. “Sergeant Moon is asked to represent the state of Washington every day. In this situation, he also represented the United States, and we can all be proud of his leadership and kindness.”
He added, “In our business, we see challenges ranging from inconvenience to tragedy every single day, and it would be easy to harden yourself so the worries of others did not invade your own heart. But as an organization, we try to recruit folks who have heart to give; this is an example of a person and a professional making sure he was the best part of a family of stranger’s worst day. We’re very proud of him and are happy for the Fischer family.”
For the Fischers, the act of generosity from the Moon family exemplified why they decided to take the road trip in the first place — to show their children the loving spirit of everyday Americans.
“We’ve just been overwhelmed with their kindness and hospitality,” Benjamin said.
“We love this country, and I think you could just see why in every state,” Melanie added.