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The Long Beach Tow-Truck Tooth Fairies

Published: 8/29/2018

Ronny Chavez was working the overnight shift at Long Beach Fleet Services when he received an unusual call. There had just been an accident and the family involved needed immediate access to their vehicle for some very personal items—their daughter’s teeth.

It was around 1:00 a.m. on that Saturday in mid-March when Sabrina Fernandez was driving back from a weekly family night at her mom’s house with her two children. Isabella, 8, was fast asleep in her booster seat, with her brother Oscar, 12, next to her in the back seat. After making a right turn near Long Beach and Artesia Boulevards, the Fernandez’s midsize sedan was reportedly hit from behind by another vehicle “traveling over 70 mph on a 35-mph street,” Fernandez said.

Screams filled the air as the car spun around and then finally stopped. “I was shaking so badly, I was scared to turn and look because I thought they were gone,” she said. “I was just shaking and crying. I had already assumed the worst.”

The impact broke the vehicle’s frame, and pushed the two front seats back, hitting the children in the back seat. While Oscar escaped without injury, Isabella was not as lucky. The 8-year-old girl’s upper lip was so swollen it was covering her lower lip.

Oscar stepped up as a big brother to help his mother and keep Isabella distracted. While waiting for the ambulance to arrive, Oscar comforted Isabella as best he could, and kept asking her questions to keep her awake.  

It wasn’t until the family was in the emergency room that doctors realized three of Isabella’s front teeth had been knocked out during the accident. At this point, it was a race against the clock to find them and re-implant them before the root cells started to die.

By now, Long Beach Fleet Services Department had towed the family’s car to its yard on Willow Street. After explaining the situation to Chavez, the Garage Service Attendant and Dispatcher on duty, Fernandez and some family members rushed to the fleet yard to search for the missing teeth in the wrecked car.

Thankfully, Chavez said, Fleet Services Drivers Luis Gutierrez and Manny Ortiz had just returned from a call to the office. “I explained to them what was going on, and they said, ‘Well let’s go get them.’” Chavez recalled.

Gutierrez and Ortiz brought the car to the front of the building to save time and make it easier for everyone to search for the teeth. By the time the family arrived two of the teeth had been located amid the broken glass and debris.

With one tooth still missing and most of the car already searched, Gutierrez and Ortiz kept digging through shattered glass and debris in the dark, using flashlights and phones to light the scene. “It wasn’t easy,” Gutierrez said. “First we checked the whole back area and the front [of the car]. And that’s when Manny said, ‘Why don’t we lift up the seat?’ And that’s when we found [the tooth].”

Isabella’s teeth were rushed back to the hospital, where dentists re-implanted them before it was too late.

According to the American Association of Endodontists, when teeth are knocked out, patients should see a dentist within 30 minutes for the best chance of having the teeth re-implanted. Fernandez said that Isabella’s teeth were out of her mouth for five hours.

As for Isabella, she remembers very little of the accident or the two days she spent at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center.

“All I remember is someone saying it was going to be alright, and I was in the ambulance,” she said. “I remember sitting down on a bed, and I was just tired.”

Chavez said that in the entire time he’s worked at Long Beach Fleet Services, nothing like this has ever happened before—Gutierrez and Ortiz agreed. However, all three men said they are extremely glad they were on duty and able to help a little girl.

Following the accident, Fernandez hand delivered thank you cards to Gutierrez, Ortiz, and Chavez. She later came back with Isabella so the 8-year-old could personally thank the men, telling everyone, “I got my smile back.”

Five months and lots of ice cream later, Isabella’s teeth have graphed back with her gums, although she still has numerous dental procedures to undergo in the future.

“I just thank God for these guys, because it was just a coincidence that they happened to arrive right when they did,” Fernandez said. “If they wouldn’t have, I wouldn’t have found those teeth. I wouldn’t have known what to do.”