WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — A foreign missionary who lost his 3-year-old daughter in an icy crash this week in Surry County discussed the moments that permanently changed his family and the reaction that has touched each of their lives.
“I picked her up in my arms, and I could see her taking some of her last breaths she could take,” Matthew Cretzman said Thursday as he recalled the last time he held Azlynn, his 3-year-old daughter.
Matthew was driving west on I-74 with his wife and two daughters when their minivan hit a patch of ice on a bridge near Exit 6 around 7:30 a.m. Monday. The minivan left the roadway and struck an interstate sign, causing heavy damage to the right side of the vehicle.
“The minute I crossed over that bridge, it was almost as if the van took itself,” Matthew said. “It slid off the road, went on the grass. It didn’t slow down. It just kept moving toward that pole.”
Azlynn, who was sitting in a child safety seat on the rear passenger's side, was pronounced dead at the scene.
“I remember seeing her pretty little face, and I could see her take her last breath and she gasped for air. I’ll never forget that: looking down on my poor little girl -- my princess -- and seeing her take her last breath.”
The Cretzmans are Baptist missionaries from Ontario, Canada. They’ve lived out of their minivan since 2010 while traveling the U.S. for various missions projects. They were headed for a church service in Ohio when the tragic accident occurred.
But Matthew reiterated: “Nothing happens by accident.” The man of faith said in that moment, he knew more than ever that God is real.
“I visualize the whole car crash, and as we are drifting over toward the pole I just picture the angels hovering over that van, and the second she takes her last breath they catch her away and she is straight up into Heaven,” Matthew said.
Matthew’s hope now is that something good comes out of the tragedy.
“It shouldn’t take a tragedy like this for there to be this kind of awareness of missions and people to encourage everybody like that,” Matthew said. “Imagine if everybody’s response to each other was like this all the time.”
Lana Cretzman, the mother, was riding in the front passenger’s seat. She was airlifted to Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center with a broken leg and lacerated liver and has since been recovering. She is expected to be released from the hospital by late Thursday. Matthew and the couple's other daughter, 2-year-old Maddison Cretzman, were both treated and released from the Northern Hospital of Surry County.
The congregation of Gospel Light Baptist Church in Walkertown is hosting the visitation and funeral services for Azlynn on Monday. Visitation will be from 10 a.m. to noon and again from 3 to 4:30 p.m. The funeral service is set for 6 p.m.
The church has also given the family a burial plot in Rural Hall, and through donations they've raised enough money to pay for a headstone. The burial will take place Tuesday morning.
Information about making donations can be found at cretzmanstocuba.com.
Besides Gospel Light, other local churches and families have been working to raise money for the family's hospital and vehicle expenses. The minivan was totaled in the crash.
The Cretzmans are also being allowed to stay in one of five houses the church has for missionaries.
"I know we don't understand these things, but like I told them, the Scripture teaches us to walk by faith and not by sight and just leave it with the Lord. Someday you'll understand," said Pastor Bobby Roberson with Gospel Light.
Matthew said the outpouring of support has been overwhelming. He said he’s never seen a community do so much for people they don’t even know.
“Man, I love you guys. We are so thankful we are overwhelmed--one thing after another,” Matthew said.