I’ll tell you this up front; this post will probably be a downer. Seriously.
I’ve often written on this blog about the unexpected events life seems to throw at us every so often. I thought I’d had my share in 2007, but it appears that 2008 may not be too far removed from its predecessor in that regard. I’ve also written on this blog a time or two about the street that I live on and how it is apparently the Santa Rosa equivalent of Dead Man’s Curve. I think you can see where I’m going with this.
I was up late last night, putting the finishing touches on a Wednesday Review when I heard the sound I’ve heard too many times: the screeching of tires followed by the crash of impact. I could tell right away that this was a bad one. The car’s horn continued to blare as I scrambled to grab my flashlight and the phone. I started dialing 911 as I ran out the front door. From the front porch and through the midnight mist I could make out the faint, misshapen wreckage of a car. As I jogged down the front steps and then the driveway, I described the scene to the dispatcher as it unfolded before me. By the time I crossed the four lanes of traffic and reached the crash two other neighbors and a couple of passing motorists were on the scene. I grew frustrated with the dispatcher as she kept asking me the address of the crash and the description of the car. It’s the only smashed car on the side of the road! I thought to myself. I know she was just doing her job.
When I got to the site of the accident it was worse than I thought. I saw what I thought was the passenger pinned inside the vehicle, her face turned away from me. As I got closer I realized that it wasn’t the passenger, but the driver. The car had crashed sideways into a tree on the drivers side, and she had been shoved almost clear into the passenger seat. The driver side panels were now in about the center of the car. The windshield was smashed and the broken sheet was dislodged and sticking up in the air. The impact had not only pinned the driver toward the passenger side, but also raised her up to where it looked like her head had hit and smashed the sunroof. The gold Lexus was nothing more than a twisted mass of metal and broken glass.
I was still on the line with the 911 dispatcher, trying to describe to her what I was seeing. She then transferred me to medical and they began to ask me questions about the victim. Were there any obvious injuries, were they moving, were they able to communicate? As I said, the drivers face was turned away from me and I didn’t see any blood or anything, but it was clear this person must have had some kind of massive head trauma and her legs appeared to be crushed under the bent front end of the car. At first she wasn’t moving at all, but then for a second moved her arm and head, just for a second. The other two neighbors and I called out to her. We told her to hold on, that help was on the way. I yelled for her to give me some kind of sign that she could hear me. But there was nothing. Then I noticed something that made the situation worse. At first I didn’t want to say it out loud because I didn’t want to believe it. But I knew I had to say something. I yelled to the neighbor who was on the other side of the car, “Does she look pregnant to you?” He said yes.
Just as I conveyed this to the dispatcher, a policeman appeared at my side. The dispatcher told me she was going to leave now and that I should talk with the police. The officer reached into the car through the shattered passenger side window and grabbed the driver’s wrist and took a pulse. He then called into his radio, “We’ve got an 1180.” I learned later that an 1180 is the police code for traffic accident with major injuries. As he let the arm down, it showed no signs of life. Soon after another officer arrived and asked the other two neighbors and I if we had seen what happened. None of us had, we only heard it. He had us step off to the side while more police and the paramedics arrived. It was then that I was sure the woman was dead.
The other neighbors (a guy named Chris and a girl named Megan) stood off to the side and waited. Megan was visibly disturbed and was having something of a minor breakdown. She had been the first one on the scene she said, and that the driver was trying to talk when she had arrived. She was convinced that had she gotten there sooner there was something she could have done. Chris and I assured her that there was nothing she would have been able to do. It’s a strange thing to encourage someone to understand that they are helpless, but in a situation like that understanding that is essential to dealing with it. You can’t blame yourself for something you had no control over, especially when the situation is so dire. Megan began to calm down, but she was still having a very hard time. I put my arm around her and tried to reassure her.
Eventually an officer came over to take our contact information. As he was collecting it, another officer came by to say that he would need written statements from all of us. I had no doubt at this point that the driver had died. The three of us filled out some forms on the hood of a police car. While we were doing that, the fire department and paramedics must have removed the driver. By the time I was done writing my statement the ambulance had gone and I assume they took the driver with them. The officer then told us that we were no longer needed and that the traffic division may me contacting us to clear up anything in our statements. I crossed the street and went back home.
I broke the sad news to Jen. Just having our baby a month before I’m sure has made us even that much more sensitive to this tragedy. We thought of the poor family of this woman. Her husband and parents, who will surely be devastated by the news. It seemed weird to me that I knew that this woman was gone, a woman I didn’t know, possibly hours before any of her family or friends would get the news. For some reason this just struck me as odd. Jen and I prayed for her family and friends. Prayed for them to be comforted, prayed that this might be a way to bring them to Christ if they aren’t there already. After I tucked Jen into bed, I knew I wouldn’t be getting any sleep, so I went out on the porch and just watched the flashing of the police lights and the officers milling about. My mind was numb. Here was someone I didn’t know, and she was suddenly brought into my life, swiftly and brutally. For what purpose I wonder?
I know God has a greater plan than I could ever understand and I know somehow this tragedy will fit into that plan. Maybe it will give me more opportunities to share with Chris and Megan. Maybe it will give them cause to think about life and death on their own and look for something to give them peace and hope–that something being Christ. Or more likely its something I would never or could never think of. But I know there has to be some purpose in it. To look at it any other way–as an arbitrary tragedy–is to have no hope in anything at all.