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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Sobering Drive Home

Another blog written in Minnesota: I left Atlanta on Good Friday to drive up to Minnesota. As I was driving on I-24 headed west, I saw an orange road construction sign that said Prepare to Stop. I didn't think I'd have to, though, because it was the Friday before Easter and the Department of Transportation had to realize there'd be traffic for the holiday. Surely, they'd suspended the work for the weekend.
And then not too much farther up ahead, traffic came to a stop. It was around 12:40 in the afternoon. As we inched along, I cursed the DOT for having road work going on, but as the time dragged out and we still were only creeping forward, I turned on the radio and started scanning for a traffic report. There was nothing.
At one point, I came on a three car accident. Someone had rear-ended another car and sent them into a third. I had to go around them, but that wasn't what had traffic backed up. It took 50 minutes in stop and go traffic before I saw why no one was moving.
On the other side of the freeway, headed east, was the remnants of the most horrific car accident I had ever seen. There was one car that looked as if a bomb had gone off and destroyed it, a second had the front end bashed in, and a U-Haul trailer off on the grass. It didn't appear damaged, though. There were clothes and personal items strewn all over the road and there was a child safety seat sitting in the middle of the carnage.
When I got to the hotel that night, I searched to find out what happened. I got the bare bones that night. The next morning, the news had the rest of the details.
At 11:40 that morning, a black 1996 Toyota Camry headed west on I-24 crossed the median into the eastbound traffic. It made impact first with the U-Haul, but did only minor damage to the truck. Then it slammed head-on into the Rav 4 driving behind the U-Haul. The man driving the U-Haul was uninjured. His wife and two daughters were in the Rav 4.
On the Saturday after the accident, the wife (who was wearing her seat belt) was said to be in stable condition per the news articles. The two daughters, aged 6 and 7, were in critical, but stable condition. They'd been restrained in child safety seats.
The car that caused the accident was the one that had looked torn apart. There was a father and two daughters in that vehicle. All of them died. The 11-year-old girl was dead at the scene. The father died at a local hospital, and the 16-year-old daughter died after being transferred to Vanderbilt hospital in Nashville.
What I read said that the father driving the U-Haul was freaking out and that people who stopped to help had to calm him down. Another quote was from a woman who was a former first responder who happened to be there shortly after the accident. She tried to save the 11-year-old girl who was in the Camry.
I haven't been able to stop thinking about this. I imagine the father in the U-Haul watching his family get hit head-on. I wonder if he sat in the hospital replaying the accident, trying to come up with what he could have done differently. I wonder if he thought if only he'd done this, it would have deflected the Camry away from his family's car.
I wonder about the wife and the two girls who are in the hospital. Stable doesn't mean well. It doesn't mean they don't have serious injuries that could take months to heal or might even cause them lifelong issues. I wonder about how much therapy—both physical and psychological they'll need to recover.
I wonder about the mother of the girls who died in the other car. How terrible it would be to lose both daughters like that. How does someone deal with that kind of sudden loss?
I think about the people on the scene. The people who saw the accident happen. The people who ran over to help. The people who saw the injured and dead loaded into ambulances. I think about the police and the firefighters and paramedics who arrived on the scene and did their jobs—and what they'll have to live with for the rest of their lives. And I wonder if they've seen other accidents this bad before.
When I saw the scene, I started praying for everyone involved—both victims and families and first responders. And I said a thank you that I was safe and that I hadn't seen the true nightmare images of people hurt, dead, dying because I don't think I could have seen that and not had it impact me strongly. Just seeing the cars impacted me incredibly hard. And the thing is that I could have seen that accident. I could have been in that area at 11:20 if I'd left on time that morning, but I was tired and dawdling and didn't leave until later than I'd planned. And I said thank you for that, too.
I still can't think about that accident or talk about it without tearing up. I can imagine the pain and confusion and hurt and aftermath too easily. How do you do a job like the police and firefighters do and deal with that day in and day out? I couldn't do it, but I'm very grateful that there are men and women out there who do what they do.