Good Samaritans from Warrenton come to aid

It was an incredible journey, complete with a happy ending.

 

Just after 3 p.m. Sunday, 84-year-old Margaret Janecki left her home in Melbourne, Fla., to run an errand -- and vanished.

Although no one is completely sure where she spent the next 34 hours, she ended up at a gas station in Warrenton, Ga., just before 1 a.m. Tuesday, where residents rallied to her rescue.

"Somehow she ended up on one of the major highways, and I guess she just drove all night," said her daughter Tracy Steele, who filed a missing person report with Florida authorities when she couldn't find her mother.

Exhausted, disoriented and 500 miles from home, Mrs. Janecki was standing in the parking lot of the Chevron station on Main Street in Warrenton when Lawanda Smith, an employee at the nearby TRW Foundry, drove by on her way home from work. She stopped, offered help and called 911.

On the other end of the line was another good Samaritan: dispatcher Nancy Smith of the Warren County Sheriff's Office.

After calling Mrs. Steele to let her know her mother was safe, the two Ms. Smiths, who are not related, sat up with Mrs. Janecki.

"Lawanda stayed with her until it was time to get her kids to school," Ms. Smith said. "Then, at 6 a.m., when I got off work, I brought her home with me. We washed her clothes and put her to bed."

On Tuesday, Mrs. Steele's brother and brother-in-law drove to Warrenton to take Mrs. Janecki home.

"These ladies are absolute guardian angels," Mrs. Steele said of the women who helped her mother. "Literally, they gave up their personal time, and time with their families, to help a complete stranger. It exemplifies what you think Southern hospitality would be."

Mrs. Janecki is very much a "free spirit" who enjoys lotto and casino slot machines and might have tried to drive south to one of the casinos near Okeechobee, Fla., Mrs. Steele said during a telephone interview.

She said she still doesn't know what route her mother took from central Florida to middle Georgia.

Mrs. Janecki said she doesn't know, either, although she remembers a sign mentioning Mobile, Ala., so perhaps her Ford compact was on Interstate 10 at some point.

As she prepared for the ride home Tuesday, a grateful Mrs. Janecki joked that her adventure would land her in "big trouble" with her family. Then she managed a broad smile and thanked Ms. Smith for her hospitality.

"If I ever win the lotto, I'll pay you back," she said.

Jason Smith of The McDuffie Mirror contributed to this story.

Reach Rob Pavey at (706) 868-1222, ext. 119, or rob.pavey@augustachronicle.com.