Budd Hedden’s life had two distinct parts — before his accident, and after it.

In the accident, on June 20, 1994, Budd — born Walter Hedden Jr. and also known as Buddy — was at the wheel of his pickup truck, driving a few friends through the pinelands of Burlington County.

Budd, who grew up in Manahawkin and Beach Haven Crest, had his chest crushed by the steering wheel when he hit a tree and rolled over a steep bank. The accident was in the middle of the night and the middle of the woods, in a time when there wasn’t a cellphone in every pocket.

By the time help got there, says his mother, Kathleen Hedden, he had massive damage to his lungs. Then there were complications from his seven-plus months in hospital trauma units, followed by more months of rehab.

But Budd came back from that and was able to live a nearly normal life for almost 10 years — doing some work at his dad’s plumbing business, driving and fishing again. But his lungs kept deteriorating, and since 2005, he needed oxygen full-time.

“He knew he was going to die young because his lungs were so damaged,” says his older sister, Becky, who lived with Budd in Manahawkin.

He was right. Budd was just 38 when he died April 27, 18 years after the accident that changed everything for him. Except his family and friends say the one thing his crushed lungs never changed was his spirit.

“He never said ‘poor me’, not once,” says Kathleen, a medical secretary. “He tried to carry on and get back to the person he was without asking for too much help. ... He wasn’t bitter — it was just a fact of life.”

And the accident certainly didn’t take away his wicked sense of humor. His friend Casey Courts, of Tuckerton, remembers Budd asking her to buy him a new laptop a few years ago. She was proud of the great deal she found him — until she showed Budd his new, white computer.

“He said, ‘Did you get me a purse to go with it?’” Courts says. “He took this white computer and turned it into a 15-minute comedy routine.”

She told that story at his funeral last month. She skipped another one, for taste reasons, but it shows how Budd wasn’t afraid to take his lines way over the line.

“He kept telling me this day would come,” says Courts, adding that he usually told her that when he was hungry. “He’d tell me how bad I was going to feel when he died if I didn’t bring him a ... sub right that very minute.”

Budd lost a lot over the years. His dad, with whom he was close, died in 2004. His best buddy, Nico the dog — whose body was also damaged — died two years ago. Budd’s sister says he never really really recovered from those losses.

But after his own accident, he came back pretty well — all except for his body.

Contact Martin DeAngelis:

609-272-7237