Sunday, July 31, 2016

Emerging From Hibernation to Tragedy

My blog has been in a state of hibernation for a few months now, and if you are (were?) a regular reader, and I appreciate your support, you may be wondering to where the heck I disappeared.  I'm here.  My plan was to restart blogging at the end of the summer, but something happened last week that prompted me to write.

My winter and spring were already extremely busy, and I was having difficulty staying with this.  I was taking a class for work purposes, and between the long hours at work, and the classwork taking my free time, I didn't have much of an opportunity to write.  I graduated from the Federal Executive Institute in June, and I followed it up with a series of work trips.

For the past two weeks, my daughter and I were on a trip of a lifetime, traveling across the country on an epic road trip.  After 5912.8 miles, 20 states, 1 great country (USA! USA! USA!), 17 days, 16 nights, 17 days of at least some precipitation, 290 gallons of fuel, 8 National Parks, 8 Cracker Barrels, 7 roller coasters, 1 incredible fan convention, 2 blessed lives enriched immensely, and one awesome Lord above all... and now we're HOME!

However, the trip was marred with tragedy.  On Wednesday, July 27, while we were driving east from Dallas on I-20, near the town of Lindale (though I didn't know the name of the town at the time), we coasted over a rise and saw that traffic was slowing considerably.  I audibly complained to my daughter, Melody, that the heavy congestion would slow us down, and I moved from the right lane into the left as we drifted down the hill.  I noticed a car in the right lane continue on at full speed (the speed limit was 70 mph).  The car never braked and slammed into the back of an 18-wheeler that had come to a stop in the right lane due to the heavy traffic.  The impact sent pieces of the car in all directions.

I slowed to a stop and just stared, attempting to register what just happened.  It was a tremendous collision.  Traffic behind us had stopped.  Melody was holding my phone, and I asked her to take a picture, because that might be important later.  It occurred to me that no one was doing anything.  Neither vehicle showed any signs of life, though the truck only sustained damage to the trailer, and continued to drift slowly a few hundred feet before stopping completely.

I was worried about the car catching fire, so, making sure the road was clear, we pulled ahead to go around the crash and park on the right shoulder, ahead of the truck.  As we drove by the car (a Subaru), we saw the driver's head sticking out of what was left of the side window at an awkward angle, and I knew he was dead.  I asked Melody to turn her head and not look.  We parked, and I asked Melody to call 911 (not thinking that we didn't know where we were...she called my parents back home in Maryland, instead).

I started to run back to the truck driver, but remembered that I had a fire extinguisher that I had just purchased before the trip, and I ran back to retrieve it.  I approached the truck driver and asked him if he was okay.  He seemed confused, and I repeated the question.  He replied in the affirmative, and I ran to the back of the truck.  It was chaotic.  Two other truck drivers coming in the opposite direction saw the scene and stopped to assist.  Both had fire extinguishers and were using them on the now burning Subaru.  One of the drivers grabbed my extinguisher out of my hand and began to use it, and the fire was quickly put out.  We heard the yells of a girl and realized she was in the car.  She was young (we found out later she was 9), and the truck drivers turned their attention to her.  An ambulance showed up, and I was surprised by how quickly it arrived.  It must have already been in the backup and was nearby.  The paramedics took charge and helped get the young girl out of the car and onto a stretcher.  She was crying and yelling for her father (who was the driver).  After placing her in a neck brace, they moved her to the back of the ambulance.  Another paramedic asked me what happened, and it became clear that I was the only witness to the crash (of those who stopped to help).

The driver of the truck was standing nearby, but neither offered to help nor came near the rest of us.  The other truck drivers directed traffic, which had started moving past in the left lane.  People in the other cars were taking cell phone pictures of the scene, and we quickly looked for a blanket or sheet to cover the body of the driver of the Subaru.  One of the paramedics returned and said there was another person in the car, a young boy (he was 8 years old).  We began to check and saw that there was a mangled body in the front passenger seat.  He had been decapitated by the force of the collision, and I noticed for the first time pieces of flesh strewn across the side of the car.  I was sick.

Fire and police soon arrived.  I was questioned several more times, by the fire personnel, then a sheriff's deputy, and a state trooper.  We were there for over an hour.  I kept going back to our Jeep to check on Melody.  She was so shook up, and I'm glad my parents stayed on the phone with her for the entire time we were there.  Finally, we were cleared to leave.  It was at least another 20 minutes before I felt calm enough to drive.

We pulled away from the scene and drove to an exit a few miles down the road.  I was really shook up.  Melody and I talked about what happened, but I didn't want to dwell on it.  But emotion over took me, and the tears came.  I broke down.  Melody hugged me, and we prayed for the people involved in the crash.

We had planned to continue to at least Little Rock, Arkansas, but we decided to stop instead in Shreveport, Louisiana.  I was exhausted and drained.  It was a sleepless night.  We were headed towards home, but we felt an urgency to finish our journey.

The rest of the trip was difficult.  I found that I was having difficulty driving, and I couldn't maintain the speed limit around trucks.  I felt my body tense up, and the last few legs of the trip were very stressful.  We finally arrived at home on Saturday.

Please pray for the family.  The driver was a mid-30s father of three.  The two passengers were a daughter and son.  The daughter sustained two broken legs, and was in a Children's Hospital in the Dallas area with her mom.  The truck driver also needs prayers.  He did nothing wrong, but I'm sure he'll battle guilt over the crash.  Pray also for our emergency personnel.  I saw firsthand just how much they care about the victims of these types of incidents.  It was a horrible experience.

Please tell your family and friends how much you love them.  None of us are guaranteed anything in this life, but if you know Jesus as your Lord and Savior, you will have eternal life.

Be safe, everyone.