Friday, June 13, 2008

Car Accident (but for the Grace of God)

A young man was racing down our street late last night when he lost control of his car. If he had not struck the neighbors car, he would likely have plowed directly into our house and into my son's bedroom. His bed is directly behind the window that would have been struck. Mark witnessed it all. Here's his account:

Last night around 1:20am I was taking the garbage to the curbside in my bare feet. As I was walking back to the house from the curb, I heard a car engine revving from the west. First, I thought it was a car or motorcycle racing down [a cross street 3 blocks down], but it immediately became clear that it was a car heading eastbound down [our street], toward me. Remembering that our neighbors had mentioned that people used to use [our street] as a “drag strip” before the installation of the “pork chop” traffic island at the corner, I stopped at the back bumper of our minivan, with one foot up on the bumper, to watch the car (or I thought potentially cars) heading my way.
What I saw was one car (with only one headlight intact, so far as I could see) barreling down [our street] at a very high rate of speed. I am not great at estimating speeds, but I figured that it was moving perhaps upward of 50 miles per hour, which is quite fast, given the rather short distance of three blocks from [the original cross street to the corner of the accident]. The car then jumped the curb at the corner [3 houses down from our house], crossing the front-yards of our neighbors, in a general trajectory that would have led it toward our house, very near where I was standing. (How it did not hit one of the trees, I do not know.) I do not remember hearing the screeching of brakes. I instinctively prepared to duck behind our van, as it looked as though the car would continue to head in my direction. Fortunately (for our family, at least), the car crashed into our neighbors’ gray 1999 Oldsmobile, parked in their driveway, spinning the car almost 180 degrees, and bringing the red car to a full stop.
I immediately ran toward the car to see if anyone was injured, as I assumed that someone naturally would be, given a collision of that magnitude. The only thing I heard as I was running toward the car was the driver attempting to start the engine. Fearing that the driver might try to run or drive away, I first tried to check the license plate number, which is when I noticed that they were temporary tags, which is also when it became clear that the car was in no condition to drive, and the putrid smell of an overheated engine made me worry that the car might catch fire, so I helped the driver out of the car. He was the only one in the car, and was (surprisingly, in my opinion) quite able to stand. He did not smell of alcohol, but he did seem disoriented. He tried to get back into the car, which is when I physically picked him up from behind and dragged him a reasonably safe distance from the car, imploring him to sit or lay down on the grass. He kept insisting that he was fine, and able to stand.
By that time, our neighbor from two houses down, (who I had never met until that point), came rushing-up to us, while dialing 911. He initially thought that I was a passenger in the car, and knew the driver, as I was trying to get him to sit or lay down on the lawn. He was shouting at both of us, and seeing the confusion, I said, “dude, I’m your neighbor over here—I don’t even know this guy,” at which point he apologized that he was (in his words) “in military mode,” and that his wife was in labor, so he was (understandably) a little on edge. [He] and I both tried to get the driver to sit down, for his own good, as I was still holding him from behind, as the driver was trying to get closer to the car. At some point, [the neighbor] smacked the driver to (in my opinion) knock some sense into him, that he had just gotten into a major accident, and was not about to get back into the car. At that point, I tried to get between [him] and the driver, the latter was insisting that he was fine, and was able to stand. I eventually released the driver, as the reality of the situation slowly began to sink in.
“Oh my God,” he kept saying, “I hit a car.” He repeated this a few times. I think he was still rather disoriented, as he did not seem to realize that the car that he hit was a parked car, indeed parked in a driveway, some fifty feet from the road! At this time, [the neighbor] was still on the line with 911, calling for an ambulance and police. After that, [the neighbor] kept questioning the driver as to whether he was drunk or not. I was trying to calm the driver down, and he was talking about what happened, as I tried to be empathetic. He said something about the clutch sticking. His words seemed coherent enough, but I could not quite make sense of his rationalizations. I kept telling him that he should be grateful that no one was injured or killed. Translation: he should be grateful that he hit an unoccupied car, rather than continuing on his trajectory which could have led him to crash into our front bedroom where our three-year-old son was sleeping.
At a moment like this, time seems to lose all meaning, so I do not exactly know how long we stood there in the neighbor’s lawn—it couldn’t have been more than a minute or two—when suddenly the driver started dashing away, eastbound from the scene of the accident. I took-off after him, and tackled him from behind in my front yard near the front lamp post, which is where I held him down until the police arrived. [The neighbor] hovered over us, which was reassuring to know that if the driver got away from me, that he would have my back.
The driver kept pleading with me to let him up, to which I repeatedly simply replied: “no.”
“I lost my shoe,” he said a few times, “at least let me get my shoe.” By that time, my wife, who was asleep at the time of the accident, had come outside, and she got the shoe, and returned it to the driver. He claimed that the way that I was holding him—face down—was causing him pain, so I eventually relented and let him sit upright with my hand on his back (just in case he tried to bolt again) as the police were now pulling-up to the scene. Before, the police apprehended the driver, he tried to convince me a few times that he was fully cooperating, and actually was not trying to run away. “No,” I said, “dude, if you weren’t running, I wouldn’t have had to tackle you, and you wouldn’t have ended-up in my yard.” Still, he continued to convince me that he wasn’t trying to run away.
By that time, the police officers approached us, asking “who’s the driver, here?” That was the first time I felt confident in taking my hands off of the guy, and I pointed with both hands to the kid. One officer led him away, while I gave my statement to another officer. My voice was admittedly trembling, as I couldn’t help but think of how things would have ended much differently, were it not for a matter of inches—a few inches one way, and the driver would have hit a tree, which would have been much less forgiving than the car that he hit. And if it was not for that car, he may have very easily have wound-up in my son’s bedroom, with even more disastrous results.
After giving my statement and contact information, we were able to assess the damage and meet with our neighbors. We took pictures, and some video of the accident scene, and tried to recreate what happened, based on the tire marks in the street, the impact on the curb, and the divots in the neighbor’s lawn. What was most striking to me were two things: one, that from the curb to the divot point, there was absolutely no wear on the lawn, which means that the car must have been airborne for quite a distance; and second, that the neighbors’ silver car was actually facing the house when it was parked, meaning that it had been spun almost 180 degrees—and quite a distance—from where it was originally parked.
It was during this time that my wife and I were to become more acquainted with our neighbors [2 doors down] and our immediate next-door neighbors, whose car thankfully saved an even more tragic outcome.

It was a horrible - loud sound. I got up and found the lights were still on in the living room. The tv was on but Mark wasn't there. I turned the tv off and it was then that I looked out into our front yard and saw Mark on the ground with 2 other people. I knew then that the sound Was an accident, and that it was bad. I ran in fear, terrified to find out what happened to Mark.

The (very young & uninsured) driver was on the ground (as was Mark) and was out of it. He did not slur or smell of alcohol or drugs, but his speech was strange. I asked him if he had been drinking. He said "No, no, absolutely not" (in an odd, drawn out speech pattern). I didn't notice the smashed cars until after the police arrived moments later as I was too focused on Mark and the driver. The neighbor (who had been in the military for 10 years & served a year in Iraq) was yelling at the driver, "Dude, I'm sorry for hitting you but you have no business trying to run away from the scene of this accident. You could be hurt and you need to sit down! My wife is in labor and I don't have time for this nonsense!"
Mark gave his statement to the police and I heard what happened for the 1st time. I've Never seen Mark so shaken. It took some time to wrap my brain around all that happened, or could have happened. The neighbors were leaving for the hospital as her water had broken and they were preparing to have their first baby. Had they left a few minutes earlier, it would have been their car struck. The neighbors (whose car was struck) said that they do not normally park that far back from the house. If it hadn't been parked there, it would have been our house to put an end to the out-of-control car. I can't even think about that. If Mark hadn't been outside at exactly that moment, this kid would have taken off. There were trees that Should have been hit. There was No broken glass but 2 totalled cars. No one was injured. There are too many ifs and thens and close calls.
I Should be thankful that it was the neighbor's car that was struck and not our house or my son. Right now, I'm angry. I'm angry at the young man for doing this. I watched the field sobriety test and overheard the officer ask him if he had a medical condition that would cause him to have trouble keeping his balance. He was cuffed behind his back and taken away in the back of a police car. I don't know if he was drunk, high or just young and careless, disturbed, or just in shock. He had been checked out in the ambulance for some time prior to failing the field sobriety test. He was shaken, but not crying or resisting the police.
I Should be thankful for what Didn't happen, and I'll get there. You believe that when your kids are sleeping in their beds, that they are safe from near-death encounters. Weather or medical conditions may touch them, but not a speeding car. I'm shaken. I'm tired. I stood in my son's bedroom last night and watched him sleep unaware for a long time. It was all I could do to stop myself from waking him up just to hold him in my arms.


~Melissa~ said...

Wow! How absolutely frightening. I'm shaken up just reading that.

RK said...

Holy Cow! That's some striking perspective in that montage. Glad it turned out as it did, that all in your house were safe. That's too close for comfort.

Anonymous said...

I believe there are ANGELS among us, as I believe there were many in your neighborhood that night! Just to think if M had'nt been outside that kid could have possibly caused more damage else where, if he was able to start his car and take off. GOD knew this was going to happen, and for the neighbors car being in its place, and the lady with the baby going into labor during, or shortly after the accident. WOW everything happens for a reason I thank GOD for his work in his mysterious ways! Ever sence you called me this morning that song keeps playing over, and over in my head I BELIEVE THERE ARE ANGELS AMONG US, and thank GOD! Give both my neice, and nephew BIG BIG hugs, and kiss'es for me, and 1 for my HEROIC brother, and 1 4 u 2! From 1 mother 2 another OMG I felt your pain! Definitely cant wait 2 c u all now!!!!!!!! LOVE Liz.

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