I was driving with my second grade son down the two-lane road to a Cub Scout Camp-out, our first camp-out. As we tooled along, we noted a car off the road, on the left side, smashed head on into a telephone pole and sitting in the ditch angled up, about 45 degrees. The passenger side was way up in the air.
As we breezed by, a voice in my head said, "the tail lights in the car were on." I wondered, was anyone still in the car. Then I said to my 8-year-old in the back seat, "We have to go back."
"But, We'll be late for camp."
"Son, it doesn't matter. When someone is in trouble, the right thing is to help them."
Now, I am no noble hero. Here's what went through my mind.
Call 9-1-1 as you drive away. But then what? The 9-1-1 operator will want to know where exactly was the accident? Well, I don't know. Somewhere on 62. I wasn't even sure of what direction I was headed. West? And I would have had to explain to the 9-1-1 operator why I drove away from the scene. And, hello! We're going to the cub scouts' event. What do cub scouts and boy scouts do? They help! So, I have to teach my son how to be a scout. Other scout dads might pass this way en route to the camp. I do not want to hear how they stopped as we drove off. One more thing - hello! I am a pastor. Pastors are supposed to help!
Seriously, all those thoughts ran through my mind as we turned the car around in a 15-second span. And I really did not know if anyone was in the car on the side of the road or not. But, I was going back for a guilty conscience, I was going back out of fear for my own reputation, and above all, I was going back to help for the sake of teaching my son the right thing. I did have compassion. I really did. But, it wasn't only compassion that worked in my mind and convinced me to go back.
We turned around and headed back to site of the accident. By the time we arrived 6-8 other cars had passed. There was barely any shoulder to speak of. As I said, it was a rural route, two-lane road. I was extremely worried that another car might hit my son, but he wanted to get out. So I told him to stay back and I would walk to the scene of the accident.
The moment we opened our doors, we heard horrible screaming from the car that was wedged into the telephone pole. When I got to the scene several people were shouting encouragement to the two girls in the car. I would guess their ages to be in the 17-23 range. The passenger was in the process of crawling out. Several people helped. They carried to a grassy area on the other side of the street.
One man remained. He and I looked nervously up at the electric lines connected to the now smashed telephone pole. It was leaning. The car wedged into it was leaning. He went to the driver's side. The young driver was screaming and crying. She had blood dripping from where her head had rammed into the steering wheel. She was not pinned.
He said, "I need you to crawl out the passenger side. You're not pinned, but we cannot open your door." This took some convincing but finally she pulled herself together to begin climbing toward the passenger side, up and out of the car. I ran over and sort of caught her as she fell out of the car. I lifted her, bloody head resting against my chest, and the man quickly lifted her feet. We carried her across and laid her in the grass next to her friend.
I sat beside the girl holding her hand, and several of the women who were nearby began encouraging both women. They continued to be in shock, continued to wail. I imagine of now dozen stopped cars that many people had called 9-1-1. Within a 5-minute span at least three fire trucks and four ambulances converged on the scene. Those combined with the sheriff's and state policemen amounted to a small army of rescue people.
When the EMT's took over at the woman's side and I moved away, I went back to where my son was. He wanted to leave but I told him I had to give the police a statement. My son was scared, but he told me had been praying to God for the women when he watched the other man and me carry the driver across the road. My son telling me of his prayers was a powerful moment for me.
As he and I stood and watched the scene, my adrenalin shut down, and my body began shaking. During all the action, I really didn't feel any nerves. I was just afraid the telephone pole would give way and the power lines would come crashing down. But that never happened. Afterward, standing with my son, I felt very weak, very overwhelmed. Later that night, a sharp backache set, probably from carrying the woman from the car.
It's amazing how life turns and circles around. When I was a young boy, we would greet my dad at the door each day when he came home from work. We would run and jump on him and shout "Daddy's home." One day, he was late. Hours late.
Near bed time, we heard the car pull in. I met him in the garage. His business suit had blood all over it. He said with a strange, cracking voice, "I tried. I tried, but I couldn't do anything."
Driving home, he saw a man get hit by a mac truck on the expressway. The truck driver stopped and immediately called for assistance. My dad pulled the large blanket from his trunk and rushed to the injured man. Dad covered him with the blanket and tried to encourage him. He stayed until paramedics came and took the man away. The man was probably dead by the time he made it to the hospital. It was the first time I had ever seen my father (Superman in my 8-year-old eyes) cry. The memory is emblazoned on my soul. I wonder if last Friday's events will have the same impact on my boy. I hope so.
And, I pray for the two women E______ and A____. We did managed to get their names and call their mom.