At various points in life most accept that unfortunate things can easily come to be. This acquired wisdom, not the fruit of painful lessons, does not save one from shock.
I drove on the same highway I had driven countless thousands of times before. I was changing radio stations in the fruitless pursuit of a song that didn’t grate the nerves. Really, is it impossible to have any decent music? Is it really necessary to dedicate half a station’s airtime to advertisements? Bugger and sod. I saw something in the mirror. A golden flash was quickly approaching. How fast was I driving? I looked, 58 MPH. That is hardly slow – but it isn’t unreasonably quick, either. The saloon drove over the double yellow lines that demarcate the direction that traffic ought to follow. The driver overtook the grey VW saloon behind me in an overtaking lane designated for traffic driving in the opposite direction. “Feckin’ Eejit” I muttered to myself before said driver nearly drove into me. In a flash she crossed the double yellow lines again – overtaking cars quickly moved into the lane most distant to avoid her.
I was still driving at a steady 58 MPH, but she was quickly moving away. Well, she was. She must have been driving at least 80 MPH as she entered an infamously treacherous turn. It was too much for her and she lost control. The driver of the ute in the opposite lane had the look of abject terror on his face as her golden saloon spun relentlessly at him. He couldn’t avoid it. His ute was flung 30 yards back – into a van. She was stopped by the side of a hill. I barely avoided that. Two insurance-fraud related “accidents” as a teenager bred a profound vehicular paranoia. I drove to the side after the three vehicles involved stopped. The driver of the grey Volkswagen saloon, a nurse as fortune would have it, stopped in front of me. Other drivers stopped to try to help. It was too late for the driver of the ute.
After the first responders removed his crumpled door with the help of bystanders he breathed his last. His aorta was torn. His now nearly featureless face, damaged nearly beyond recognition by the force of two high-speed impacts, told more of his sad fate than any words. His most innocent of passengers, an older terrier, had been flung onto the road and expired. I waited among the wreckage for an hour and a half. The driver of the grey saloon and I struck up a conversation full of gallows humour. She is a woman of profound Christian faith who grimly accepted it as divinely-ordained fate. We gave our testimonies to a California Highway Patrol officer. As the only witness to have seen the entire series of events unfold I had to walk along the road with him explaining the events and showing the locations in detail.
One grows used to this, I suppose. The police were stone-faced throughout. The fire crew were polite, but curt, their expressions impassive. The coroner arrived a half hour after the first ambulance. He laughed with the medics. For some death is merely another day at the job. For me, it was utterly surreal.
17 thoughts on “Expire”
A chilling experience. I’m sure. The culprit will never forget it either.
I think, as with doctors nurses, firemen etc. these people have to mentally seperate themselves from the horror of their work, otherwise they couldn’t survive.
All to get somewhere a few seconds earlier.
Janus: No, nor will the white van man. The ute driver was bringing a mate’s dog back. He was minding her for a few days. The white van man was merely trying to return home from work. He survived, but he was badly shaken. The culprit will probably spend some time in hospital but she is likely to face numerous charges — including what she did to the white van man.
Gaz: Yes, very much so. They see so many things that would break us mere mortals. I couldn’t do their job.
Boadicea: That attitude has become increasingly common in the US. People are growing viler and viler. There’s less and less respect shown to anyone or anything. I’ve seen more accidents in the past month than I did in a year only a handful of years ago. I will return to Europe next week. I’m really looking forward to it.
You don’t have time to think about it on an emotional level,when you arrive. Firstly is anyone in a life threatening situation?, Is there anyone with injuries that could be fatal if left untreated ’til the paramedics arrive? Can I do anything to prevent treat their injuries? Is the accident in a location that is likely to cause an escalating situation ( near a blind bend where other vehicles may be unable to stop in time before crashing into it ,for example) Has everyone been accounted for? It is not unknown for people in shock to leave the scene and just start walking home (even thought their home may be scores of miles away) Is the there any property at risk (I once attended an accident involving a white van full of photo equipment, while dealing with all the above, somebody robbed it) Where there any witnesses? You need to get names and addresses at the very least before they leave the scene, and that’s just some of that you have to assess when you arrive. You’ll get time to think about though, normally when you’re trying to get to sleep that night.
Were you an emergency ‘pro’, JL?
I think that attitude is becoming increasingly common everywhere… My Right to do Exactly As I Please…
Sounds to me that you have been involved in emergency situations. I had a friend who was an ambulance driver. He reckoned that anyone who could not put emotions to one side at an emergency scene was pretty damn useless.
The thin blue line for a while, Janus
Boadicea, He was right, but if young kids were involved it could make staying dispassionate less than easy. You can explain to an adult that they’ll be OK, that the ambulance was on the way, but trying to comfort a three or four year old who is hurt and scared ‘cos they can’t find their Mum or Dad could be very hard.
James: In this case it was at a very precarious location. It’s a blind bend on a busy highway that has a relatively high speed limit. Some drivers set out to warn people to stop to prevent further accidents. Naturally, there were the voyeuristic buzzards with their smartphones taking pictures of the wreck and the body. Keeping them away to prevent disturbances to the scene was a task in and of itself. Unfortunately, it required 15 police officers to secure the scene and keep those with no business or interest away.
Boadicea: Yes, you are sadly correct. Standards of behaviour and attitudes are becoming more twisted by the day. The Americans are merely a decade ahead and even at their best had something of the “my way or no way” mentality about them.
I do not agree with Christopher’s assessment of the USA character. This is not what I have found at all. People in Washington are far more polite and courteous than in England. California may well be different! I also know that Texas is ghastly to drive in, so it may well be a regional thing here. There is a huge difference in society between England and Wales too.
Yes accidents are up everywhere due mainly to cell phone use. About time cars had some kind of gizmo rendering them inoperable whilst the motor is running.
I do notice that people in the UK drive much faster than in the USA generally. But then the speed limits are much higher there too.
…….and in the UK and here they are talking about raising the limits! Madness, I tell you!
CO: It’s not only in California. My dealings with Americans have largely been negative, although there is a pleasant minority. Never could stand people from Oregon or Washington, though. Nasty, boring two-faced people who’ve never been interesting even once. A bit like communist Idahoans. The only thing more bland than their potatoes are the people. By the way, some US jurisdictions have very high speed limits.The Midwest isn’t too bad but people are getting stupider there, too. I might come in December to sort out a few details but don’t have any real desire to return other than that.
Janus: Brilliant. Next week I will have to travel across Denmark by car.
If you have time and fancy a break from boring/lethal motorways, you could drive NW to Sjælands Odde and take the ferry over to Jylland.
Janus: The ferry simply isn’t practical and it’s unlikely to save any time as the destination is Kolding.
Do you have to drive? Trains are very frequent.
Janus: The Viking will drive if anyone does.