Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Another Close Call...

If Southeastern Michigan had any form of transportation at all, today would be the day that I give up driving. I was going southbound on I-75 this morning when I looked up to see the tractor-trailer wobbling violently beside me. To me, it appeared that his load had shifted and it looked as if the damn thing was on the verge of flipping over on top of me. Without thinking I yanked on my steering wheel and pulled hard to the left, cutting off the guy just barely behind me in the left lane, sending him hurtling into the lane where I just was trying to avoid me. As soon as he cleared out from behind, I spotted an SUV twirling around behind the both of us until it smashed into the median guardrail and was sent ricocheting back into the middle of the expressway.

My heart sank as I pulled hard back to the right shoulder. I looked back at the semi, which now looked about as stable as it could be while stopped on the shoulder, and my initial thought was that I had experienced some weird hallucination that had lead me to cause a very serious accident. The guy I cut off thought the same thing and as we both crawled out of cars, he was telling me so in no uncertain terms. Upset that he would not let me explain my side of the story, I began getting belligerent back and we spent the next ten seconds or so screaming at each other on the side of the road. Then something must have caught our attention because we both back looked behind us and went dead silent.

I was almost relieved that I was not imagining things. The truck beside me was wobbling. It had been struck from behind by several vehicles forced into it by an out-of-control tractor-trailer that had plowed into them. My adversary and I ended our argument on the spot and without saying a word sprinted back towards all of the broken cars and trucks behind us. The wobbly truck looked fine from the front so we bypassed him and went to a Ford Ranger pickup that was perched precariously atop the right guardrail on its side. All the airbags had deployed and the driver was trying to climb up out of the window while holding a cloth to his bleeding face at the same time. We jumped up on top of the car to try to help but the effort was an exercise in futility. Seeing this, my partner kicked out the glass on the ground side and managed to squeeze him out through there. Aside from some superficial cuts, he appeared OK. Then he took a couple of steps and collapsed. My partner caught him and got him to the ground. Apparently he had suffered a significant concussion.

As my uninjured colleague had the concussion victim, I went on to see if there was anyone else that needed help. Despite the Detroit area’s reputation as a violent place where life is cheap, less than a minute and a half into the accident, the scene was crawling with Samaritans pulling people out of various mangled wreckages. I was able to help the guy out of the SUV I saw twirling around behind me but after that, nearly every other car already had someone helping out. Then I saw a vehicle well off the road back in the woods. It was hard to spot from the road and I was afraid that it might have been missed. I ran up to it find that a nurse already had the driver out of the vehicle and lying in the grass. The only thing I could do there was to grant the nurse’s request to direct the paramedics up there once they arrived.

Seeing that everyone was being attended to, I walked back up front where I ran into my new buddy back by the overturned Ranger. While we were discussing the driver’s condition, we looked back by the truck and simultaneously notice an extra wheel in the pick-up’s wreckage. A closer look revealed extra metal as well and we both realized that, despite having walked past the wreck several times, we had missed a car that had gotten caught between the tractor trailer and the Ranger. Both of us ran to it to see if there was anything we could do but if the outside appearance of the car was not enough to tell us the driver never had a chance, a quick look inside certainly did. I am not going to go into detail about what I saw, but I can definitely say that it is something I will likely blame for a lot of lost sleep for the next couple of weeks.

It was not long after that when the police started showing up. To get out of the way, a dozen of us walked over to the median and waited to be questioned. Until the full first response contingent arrived, my collision partner and I stayed silent unless we were warning civilians to stay away from the crushed car. I think we were there a good half hour before he turned to me and nodded over towards the wreckage, “You know, that could have been either one of us over there.”

He was right. I could not help but wonder what the person in that vehicle was thinking when that truck hit it. Did they even know what had happened? I doubted it, seeing how quickly things had unraveled. I hoped it anyway. After that, we started talking more, mostly trading small talk that was completely unrelated to the accident, trying to get our minds off of what we had just seen. Then some dufus stepped up beside us, nodded towards the wreckage we just came from and said, “Wow. That’s a shame. You think there were any kids in there?”

It was a place that I had not thought of going and really would have liked to have avoided altogether. Mercifully, we were released from the scene before the car was cut open but as news filtered out later, it turned out that there were no kids in the car, unless you count the victim who turned out to be a nineteen-year-old girl.

As for what actually happened, I have no idea. My understanding is that the moving truck was going way too fast for the traffic conditions and started plowing into vehicles when the flow started slowing down for an upcoming construction zone. Various news reports put the number of vehicles involved in the wreck between eight and eleven, which I guess would depend upon whether they were counting the cars of the three of us that didn’t get hit but stopped to help.

Getting home yesterday night was strange as well. Everyone was fine, all of my kids were healthy and happy and busy doing all of the crazy stuff that young kids should be doing to get in trouble. I should have been embracing the moments with them but all I could think about was what that 19-year-old girl’s family was doing at that particular moment. It almost seemed wrong that I took my kids out for ice cream last night knowing the unfathomable grief that someone else was going through on the other side of town. Desperately needing some quiet time, I went to bed at the first opportunity but had no chance of sleeping with the vision of the fatality still swimming in my head. To make matters worse, my memories of what I saw began being falsely enhanced with things that I KNOW I did not see in that car but now stand out as if I had taken a picture.

My apologies for the lack of a punchline to this blog entry but there were no smart-assed comments or anything even remotely amusing about what had happened. In fact, I am not even sure why I am writing this at all seeing as how this event was an hour of my life that I will be doing my best to forget for a long time from now. I don’t know, maybe I think these few paragraphs will be somewhat therapeutic or something, who knows. Either that or I’m just doing what I usually do. I came, I saw, I wrote. Once again, sorry and hopefully I’ll do a better job of writing my next blog entry. It should not be too hard since a few minutes ago, my potty-training 3 year old son just had the toilet seat fall down on his winkie. If I can’t work with that, its time for me to hang up the keyboard.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm sorry.

8:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

JEP, It sounds like it's a good time for you to go on vacation. Ya need a break. My thoughts and prayers are with you, the girl, and her family.


8:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've just been told by "She who must be obeyed" that when I come back for our 20th year reunion in Ocyober, I can not drive with you. In fact, I've been told by S.W.M.B.O. that I can't even be on the same road as you.


11:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Damn Jim, I'm sorry to read this. I'm glad as hell you're ok, but can only imagine how you are handling this, especially in light of what happened to you before. I was on a ride about a month or so ago and a guy went down in front of me. Luckily he was ok, but I had a huge lump in my throat as I watched his bike go of the road and him fly over the handlebars. Sounds like you were in the right place at the right time though Mr Good Samaritan.

Glad you're ok buddy,
Caretaker Matt

9:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have you forgotten about us...Well, me?


9:03 PM  
Anonymous LilyRN said...

I was there, too! I was driving from Ann Arbor to work. I was the big blonde nurse yelling on top of the Camry.

You did everything right. You stayed alive and you helped everyone else. That's all you can do. The young woman died before she could take a second breath and you couldn't have helped her or prevented it.
The best and most helpful thing you could have done, you did: noticed her, acknowleged her humanity, felt sorrow and remembered her.

You didn't turn away or ignore her like many would have and for that, I thank you.

9:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with Lily RN - You did everything right. And as for questioning why you wrote this in your blog - How about to remind everyone how precious life is, and how quickly it can be taken from us. Your words remind me and countless others to appreciate every day and to live life to the fullest. Thank you

11:28 AM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home

The JEP Report Store Reader Sites
  • Inflammable Hamster
  • Right Michigan
  • Great Writing