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Twisted metal, dust plumes and prayer

By Bev Barr BCC Editor

Last Thursday I was on my way home from work, heading north on the 173rd Airborne Brigade Highway. I noticed that a car in the oncoming lane was approaching me, and beginning to drift toward the centerline. I immediately dropped my speed just a bit, anticipating that a distracted driver would notice, compensate for that drift and correct her path. But that didn’t happen.
The car intersected the centerline at about an 8-degree angle and was heading directly towards me. If neither car altered its course, the trajectory of our two paths would collide within about three seconds, and the intersection of those two lines — the impact — would be the front quadrant of the driver’s side of my car. I sped up and drove off the highway onto the grass, the oncoming car’s trajectory didn’t change a bit, and I escaped a direct collision by a matter of inches. I looked in my rearview mirror and watched the other car hit and go over the guardrail, drop out of sight and throw up a great plume of dust. I grabbed my phone and dialed 911.
The dispatch person who answered the phone may or may not have said her name. I was in shock; I remember some details, but not others. I told her what happened and the location of the accident. I “held on” as she answered another call about the same accident, then perhaps another. I heard sirens coming through the phone line from her end of the call. She told me it didn’t matter if I stayed at the scene of the accident or left. They had my contact information if they needed a witness, but since there hadn’t been another car involved, perhaps a witness wasn’t necessary. I just barely and most recently escaped with my life, but now I was free to go.
I turned my car around and parked at the A & A place for a few minutes, while I considered what would be best for me to do, and why.
“You’re a newspaperwoman,” I thought to myself. “Car wrecks sell papers. At least that’s what ‘they say.’ Car wrecks and puppies.” My camera was right there in the seat next to me, right next to my cell phone. It would be easy enough to pick up my camera and get some “art” for the next front page.
But the truth is, I’m just not that kind of newspaperwoman. I’ve been reading newspapers all of my life, I have a perspective and philosophy about the evolution of the press and its roll in our democracy that would take a book to describe, not a paragraph. I don’t want to exploit or sensationalize a horrific moment in order to sell papers — and I don’t have to. That is not who I am, or what I’m about as a journalist.
I got out of the car without my camera and experienced the inner stillness of prayer while the unfolding efficiency of emergency personnel worked together to rescue a woman evidently trapped inside a crumpled vehicle. I observed other spectators and people who in the slow moving vehicles turned their heads to catch a glimpse of disaster. A woman wearing a red t-shirt came up from behind me and ran across the highway, screaming, “That’s my sister!” and an officer waved her across the road. Panic and fear poured off her body like heat waves off asphalt, visible as a mirage. The EMS loaded someone strapped to a gurney into the back of the ambulance, and the woman with the red shirt managed to get back across the highway to her children, who were waiting in a van parked at the side of the road.
“I don’t know how anyone could survive that!” The sister, the mother — wept and trembled; she was clearly in shock. She would drop her kids off and go to the hospital, she said. I offered to drive her, but she refused this stranger’s help.
About five seconds. Being a journalist, I timed it. That’s how much time I had to recognize a life-threatening and life-altering wreck that was about to happen coming right at me. And in less than one hour, there was very little evidence that anything had happened to a woman heading south on the 173rd Airborne Brigade Highway.