“Wow, the lines on the road are really tough to see,” my partner remarked, just after we had pulled out onto the street on our way home from the office.
The sun was that bright, shining down from almost directly overhead.
And the dotted lines demarcating the lanes were that old, probably not having been re-striped in years.
He is learning to drive. He is good at it, and being low-vision, he’s cautious. I’m doing the driving today. And because I can see the lines more than sufficiently, then tag! I’m it.
I said, “yeah, let’s not practice driving on Friday afternoons for a little while; it’s getting too sunny and too hot; the sun brings out all the people and the heat amps up all their aggression.”
It’s not that I don’t have faith in him or his abilities; it’s just that I have zero faith in the other drivers out there, and he doesn’t have the extreme experience it often takes to get down the road in one piece in the Texas summer. Sometimes I even wonder how, despite 21 years of driving, I get us from Point A to Point B alive. It’s a lot of split-second decisions, evasive moves, and accommodating the lack of wisdom and consideration of others.
We uneventfully passed through one traffic light, then another, and another.
It was a normal Friday afternoon, and we were heading home like we always do, along a well-traveled route.
I was in the middle lane, like I usually am.
Move along, nothing to see here.
A silver car pulled out from one of the tiny outlets attached to one of the larger apartment complexes. Instead of taking his immediate lane, which would have been the relatively empty right lane, he had to pull out in front of me.
I was traveling at regular road speeds, but he was not. Knowing that the right lane was clear, I moved into that lane and passed the silver car, reclaiming my preferred spot in the middle lane, safely in front of the silver car.
I came up on another car in the middle lane, so I proceeded to pass them. By this time, the right lane was occupied, and I don’t like to pass on the right if I can avoid doing so, because it’s not customary in the US. Here, the left lane is for passing.
I checked my side mirror before making the lane change, as I always do.
The silver car was behind me, following too closely, but I had plenty of space to make the lane change, so I did.
The silver car was changing lanes, too, making his move in sync with mine, as though we were joined.
He was picking up speed, though, and as I successfully merged into the left lane, he began trying to pass me illegally, by using the long perpetual center lane between the two directions of road as an illegal (not to mention incredibly stupid and dangerous) passing lane.
At that point, the large center dividing lane he was in was about to run out, being replaced instead with a curb median. He had to make a choice: either hit the curb median squarely, which would have caused massive amounts of damage to his car, or he would have to merge back in behind me, with regular left lane traffic.
He chose neither.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him decline to get behind me and evade the rapidly-approaching curb median (and its indicator road sign) and instead, proceed to drive down the wrong side of the road, into oncoming traffic.
Oh shit, I thought. What a nutjob! He’s going to kill somebody!
Sure enough, he had collided with another car.
A head-on collision.
Both cars had been traveling at about 45 miles an hour. Doing the math, that’s like hitting a wall at 90.
All I could say was, “oh god. Oh god. Oh shit.”
My partner felt the collision physically. He thought we had hit something.
“No, no,” I reassured him. “We didn’t hit anything. And nothing hit us.” I gulped. “It’s back there.”
All I could think was, there are going to be injuries. Bad ones. I’ve seen the aftermath before.
I saw too much.
It was too close.
I know what happened.
I know too much.
I had to go back. Present myself, offer myself up as a witness. I had to go on record.
I found the closest safe place to turn around, which was the wide entryway of a housing development. It would be a left turn into the development, where I could sit for a minute, then make a right turn to go back and roll up on the wreck.
I refuse to call it an accident. There’s absolutely nothing accidental about behavior like that.
I sat in the driveway of the housing development, trying to make sense of what just happened. Trying to gather my thoughts for when I would talk to the police. Trying to decide how to get back there. Trying, first, to compose myself. That would be helpful.
As soon as I could, I got moving again. This situation did not call for dawdling.
Of the three available lanes, the right and middle lanes were blocked; only the left lane was getting through. There was already a short line of cars in the left lane, no doubt rubbernecking at the carnage.
Keep moving, people. If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.
I understand the slow speeds, though. The wreckage involved the lane next door, and people were hurt. You don’t just blow past a scene like that at regular speeds.
Near the wreck site, I found a place to park, in the unsupervised parking lot of a Senior Living center. There were plenty of spaces available, and I took one further down the row.
We parked and walked back to the site. By now, my partner is already on the phone with 9-1-1, well-settled into his Cop/Dispatcher Mode. Keeping enviably calm and collected.
I was anything but.
All I could think about were the innocent victims.
To hell with the douchebag perpetrator. I hope he ate glass from his windshield.
The damage was extensive, just like anyone knew it would be. I didn’t get a good look at the victim’s car, a white something-or-other, but its damage was comparable to the perpetrator’s silver car.
There was also a black muscle car that didn’t appear to have any damage. They had most likely been in the right lane, as the nightmare unfolded in front of them, coming to a stop behind it all. It was their lucky day. A lane change here and a split-second there determine who walks away and who gets taken by ambulance.
There was a small crowd of people on the sidewalk. No doubt the involved parties and hopefully enough witnesses to nail the asshole to a wall.
One girl was laying on her back on the sidewalk, people standing around her. She had her knees up and I think her hand on her head.
My heart went out to her. My bleeding was inside, but I bled today, too.
I walked over to them. “I saw the whole thing, and if you need me as a witness, I’ll give you anything you need.”
The perpetrator, I noticed, was just fine. The guilty ones usually are. It’s the victims who pay.
The young punk, not knowing who he was talking to, said, “did you see that pickup truck cut me off??”
Already trying to deflect blame. Because he knew he was in deep shit.
I said, “I was the driver of that truck. The one you wanted to pass illegally without looking where you were going.”
My partner clasped me by the shoulder and pulled me back. I agreed; I wasn’t going to start a shitstorm. I wasn’t there for him. I was there for the people he hurt with his ill-planned move.
We stood about 30 feet away while police unit after police unit rolled up and took statements.
Then the fire truck came. There was no fire, but in our town, it’s protocol to send a fire truck on a medical. And this was definitely a medical. They bring manpower. And for some reason, they always arrive before the ambulance.
I know these things.
Then, the ambulance came.
Two, apparently, according to my partner, but I only saw one. The second one was probably hidden by wreckage and overhanging tree branches.
One was enough.
I couldn’t stop it from coming, crashing into me: a flashback. To an event I hadn’t witnessed. To a crisis I hadn’t been through. But one that hits too close to home anyway. One that “cripples” my mind (sorry for the poor word choice; I don’t mean to be offensive. I just can’t think of a better one right now).
The tears came. My partner understood.
The anger I felt toward the asshat on his victims’ behalf (there were two people in the car he hit, apparently) gave way to intense fear and sadness for the victims.
I watched as they loaded up one of the victims on a stretcher into the ambulance parked in front of me. They rolled then, executing a cautious U-turn toward the nearest hospital, before turning on the lights and siren.
One of the police officers came over to talk to me. My partner had a better grasp of the details surrounding the early events, where the silver car shithead had pulled out in front of me and the subsequent lane changes I had to make to avoid hitting him from behind, so I was grateful to let him do the talking before taking over the conversation to describe what I had seen.
Just as graciously, he explained to the officer the source of my tears. I interjected that normally, I’m much calmer and level-headed than this, so please forgive me.
The officer, a young guy, was very kind, very understanding. I was grateful for that, too. I knew the significance of the situation would probably hit him later this evening, when it was all over with. I hope the impact to him isn’t too hard.
A second one came over to take my statement, too, while the first one went back to the crowd, probably to clear up a few details. A third one joined in on our conversation at some point, asking me about a few specifics, and then nodding at my answers.
“So was he (the hothead) trying to make a U-turn?” the officer asked.
“No,” my partner and I assured him. “It looked like he was trying to pass us and simply ran out of room.” My partner gestured toward the section of the road where the large center lane gave way to the curbed median.
“Oh,” one of the officers nodded. “That makes more sense now.”
They shot each other the briefest of knowing looks. Something had clicked into place.
Apparently, the guilty party was feeding them a line of bull. And I had just blown it wide open, revealing it for the crap that it was.
And apparently, my statements matched that of the other witnesses (I don’t know how many there were).
If I have to go to court as a witness, so be it.
I only want justice for the victims. I don’t want what happened to my parents to happen to them, too. No one had stopped or come forward to give their statements, and so their case became a he-said-she-said situation.
Not on my freaking watch.
Sending heavyweight, intense prayers to the girls who were hit. I know that after something like this, you’re never quite the same again. I hope they heal as fast and completely as they can.
And as for others, well, I hope they learned something today.