Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Two Out of Five Ain't Bad - Part 2

In the time I had spent checking out the condition of the people in the little red car, a few other people had stopped to help. The traffic passing the scene was slowing right down, and one gentleman was asking if any passing motorists had a cellphone (This was in the early days, hardly anyone used them). A trucker coming by radiod in on his CB, and knowing that police and fire were on the way, I headed down the road and put my last flare out.

After what seemed a long time, a lone OPP cruiser approached from the opposite direction, and about three minutes later finally arrived on our side of the road. The officer stepped out, a younger guy, maybe 40 or so, and approached us, asking who know what was going on. The slightly freaked out tow truck driver who was first at the scene immediately went into an excited babble, and I had to interject.

"I didn't see it officer, but I can tell you what's up." I said. He seemed relieved, and approached me, ignoring the babbling man.

"Three occupants of the pickup are right over there, being taken care of by his wife." I said pointing to the guy again, "Apart from shock, they seem okay, but he has lost it a bit I'm afraid."

"Yeah, I was getting that...." the officer replied.

"unfortunately, the pickup has crushed a car underneath it, if you want to follow me. Both occupants are dead."

"Okay, got it, how did you determine that?" He had his flashlight out, and we started in the direction of the front of the truck.

"Well the passenger had no pulse, and was totally non-responsive." I replied.

The officer paused. "And the driver?"

I thought for a moment "...Based on visual observation." I replied quietly.

We had reached the front end of the truck, and he cast the light toward the side of the car, and checked on the passenger. Then he knelt down, and looked further inside. It surprised me actually, when he turned around and vomited, but then I suddenly realized that cops probably didn't take a course on "how not to react naturally when presented with the horiffic aftermath of a collision". I gave him a bit of room, and turned back toward the embankment. He joined me quickly.

"Almost twenty years" he said "and I have never seen anything that bad." He started up the hill, a bit unsteady, and I put my hand on his shoulder to guide him and help him up.

"Thanks." He said, reaching the top.

"That's okay. I spent at least twice as long puking down there than you did," I replied. He laughed, and at that moment we could see the flashers of the fire rescue vehicles, and ambulance, heading toward the scene.

About fifteen minutes after that, after giving my statement, I continued the drive to Waterloo.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Two Out of Five Ain't Bad - Part 1

Many years ago I was driving from Ottawa to Waterloo. It was very late, as I had left Ottawa well after dinner, and had passed through Toronto after Midnight. About 40 minutes past Toronto, driving up the hill on the 401 past Kelso Conservation Area, I saw a pair of brakelights well ahead of me flash on for a couple of seconds, then completely disappear. Odd, it seemed, as I had been following the same small group of vehicles about a kilometre back for at least the last five kilometres.

After cresting a rise about where the lights disappeared, I noticed then that the road dipped a bit, possibly the reason for the lights to disappear. At the same time I noticed a set of taillights ahead of me and to the right, off to the side of the road. An instant later, my tail end started to slide, as the road curved to the right, and there was gravel all over the place. I popped the clutch, straightened the back end, and slowed down.

To my right the taillights I saw were on the back of a large horse trailer, which had followed the pickup truck towing it off the roadway and into the ditch. I hit the brakes and geared down, and noticed ahead of me a little SUV parked on the shoulder. I had plenty of time to stop, so I pulled in behind the SUV and stepped out.

Just then I saw a man come trotting up toward me: "We got to get them out, We got to get them out!" he yelled at me, frantically.

"Get who out? What are you talking about? Buddy, calm down a bit" I told him, but he just continued on ranting: "Jesus man, I was a tow truck driver in Toronto for years, and ain't seen nothing this bad! We got to get them out, hurry!"

From behind my seat I pulled out my fire extinguisher, and a three-pack of flares, and we headed back toward the pick up, he running ahead, urging me to hurry. As I got closer, I saw four people standing on the shoulder near the tail end of the pickup truck, A crew cab F-350. It had completely run off the shoulder and into the ditch, with the horse trailer behind it still mostly on the shoulder. Three of the people appeared to be dazed, or in shock, the other a lady, seemed to be taking care of them.

"That's my wife, and the three from the pickup." the guy said to me "I think they're ok, but down here.....oh Jesus, man, we gotta get them out!"

I looked down - Jesus Christ - was all I thought when I saw it, and recognized what it was. A small red car, barely visible, was completely crushed under the front end of the pickup. It was sideways, with only what appeared to be the passenger side of the vehicle visible under the mammoth front bumper of the truck.

"We gotta get them out! c'mon man, we gotta get them out, let's go" the guy urged me. I was starting to lose it. I took out my first flare, and struck it. It began flaming brightly.

"Buddy, take this flare, and stick it out on the highway, about 300 feet down the road." I said to him. He took the flare, and trotted off. I hadn't noticed at all, but a couple of vehicles were passing every minute, and I didn't want them all spinning out on the gravel over the road.

I struck the second flare, and then carefully picked my way down into the ditch, to the front of the pickup truck, and the little red car crushed underneath it. I couldn't smell gas, but still held the flare carefully in my left hand, up high as I approached. As I came up to the car, I noticed the passenger side was facing out, with the nose of the car pointing to my right. The pickups bumper was on top of the car, resting on the roof of the passenger side of the vehicle. Things didn't look to good for whoever was inside. The passenger side window had exploded out, and an arm was hanging out the window. I knelt down, to get a better look, as the car was so close to the ground. I couldn't find a pulse, and the passengers head was tilted at an odd angle - she was dead.

I brought the flare closer, as I hadn't seen the driver. As I did so, and looked further in, I saw what was left of the driver's head, exploded over their body, a grisly mix of blood, bone, brain and hair. The pickup had apparently smashed through the side of the car, with some of the engine parts crushing open the drivers head, and probably crushing their body also. In the now gruesome orange-red light of the flare, I felt nausea rush over me.

I turned around, stumbled away, and started puking. I hadn't eaten in a long time, but I heaved up whatever I had for about half a minute, before climbing back up to the shoulder.

"Hey man, we gotta get them out! Can we get them out now?" He was now past the point of me being polite in any manner whatsoever.

"Buddy, could you shut the fuck up! I don't wannna hear that again!" I yelled, and he immediately quieted down. "They are dead! DEAD! We don't have to get them out. It's all over, they are both dead."

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Traveller Leaves Emptyhanded - Part 2

After a few minutes of heaving and pulling with brute force, the guys managed to simply peel the rear passenger door off the car body. One of them climbed inside and twisted the seat forward, freeing the injured girl, and gently passed her up to waiting hands on the outside. All the while I was monitering the engine, making sure the fire didn't come back to life.

Finally, she was carried to the shoulder and laid down on a blanket provided by a nurse who had stopped to help. She was barely conscious, but breathing, as far as I knew. The fire had spurted back to life, which I allowed to burn up a bit for a few minutes before putting out with the last of the contents of my extinguisher.

"I really thought that it would blow up, like on TV, or something like that" It was the second gentleman; "How did you know it wouldn't have done that?" He asked me.

"Because thats TV for you, they gotta make it exciting" I replied "Besides, this isn't the first car fire I have had to put out....Don't ask, if thats okay."

He nodded, but didn't reply. About this time, I heard sirens, and the ambulance arrived, followed by a local volunteer fire crew with a pumper truck and a rescue vehicle, and last, the OPP. The car fire had decided to burn back up again, and by the time the fire crew had gotten everything together, much of the car was being consumed. Ten seconds with the big hose and the show was over.

After waiting for the OPP to take statements from gentlemen numbers one and two, I finally gave mine, and roughly 90 minutes after the incident, I crossed the highway again, to Katherine, who had been waiting patiently in the van with Rudi.

"I guess thats why I stop" I said, as I started the van, pulled onto the road, and headed, albeit rather late now, for home. As I looked back to the left, to the scene, The OPP cruiser was still there, along with a couple of other vehicles, and a tow truck was on the shoulder, winching the car out of the ditch. And I can't tell for sure, but I thought I may have glimpsed him, a tall man, dressed in black, stepping back into his car, and driving away emptyhanded.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Traveller Leaves Emptyhanded - Part 1

So there we were, Katherine and I, with Rudi in the car seat in the back, driving home from the cottage one Sunday afternoon about 4 years ago. A little past Peterborough, we were having a rather lively discussion on why I had to stop and help people at the side of the road, which generally resulted in me being late for something... like dinner for example.

I was part way through my response when I noticed it... It was rather sublime actually, a little green Honda in the oncoming lanes drifted toward the outside shoulder, then lurched toward the median, and then twisted to the outside again, sailing off the shoulder and cartwheeling three times before coming to a rest near a tree.

In the roughly six seconds and 200 metres travelled that this all occurred within, I had begun saying to Katherine "Grab the cellphone and dial 911".

"Why?" she replied, not having seen the car, which was now twisting away from the centre meadian.

"Look over there! That's why!" I replied, as the car had begun its series of three cartwheels over the ditch. By now I had our van on the shoulder, hazards on, slowing to a stop. "911, tell them to send everyone, and that we are just east of the 1/4 Tapley Line!" I yelled as I put the van in park, and headed across the highway to check things out.

After crossing two lanes of traffic in each direction, I arrived at the scene. The car had come to a rest opposite where I had the van parked. It was a crumpled mess, a Honda Prelude station wagon, dark green, laying driver side up. I didn't have a very good feeling about this as I approached, as I had seen at least one occupant tossed around the vehicle as it was cartwheeling, and guessed there was one dead person inside.

As I came closer, another gentleman approached, an older guy who had been following the Prelude. He had pulled over about 50 metres back, and was just walking up the shoulder toward the wreck. I went down, looked in, and saw a man in the front passenger area, injured slightly, calling out "Lee, Lee, Lee!"

It appeared he was calling for his driving companion, a young lady who was now wedged between the rear seatback on the passenger side, with her upper body in the rear seat compartment, and her legs in the storage area of the station wagon. It amazes me to this day, but her body had somehow become stuffed in the space between the side of the seatback and the wall of the car, barely a half inch space at best. She was unconcious, but I could barely make out her breathing and moving; fortunately she wan not dead.

Holy shit. That was pretty much all I could think. Not the standard variety of holy shit though, more of "this is quite amazing" version. A second man had joined the first. "Are they dead?" he asked. What an optimist! I laughed, and replied that they weren't, but we might have to get them out. The first gentleman replied he had been following them, and saw the whole thing happen, that the vehicle seemed to lose control and veer right, then left to the median, and then off the road - exactly what I saw.

We all returned to the car, and I spoke to the gentleman inside to calm him, that we would get him out, and that an ambulance was on the way (or so I hoped!) It was at this moment that a fire burst out in the engine compartment. Time was now an issue, and we would have to get both he and his passenger out before emergency vehicles arrived.

Three or four more people had arrived now, and the second gentlemant to arrive produced a fire extinguisher. "My wife bought it for me last month." he said, but added that he was having difficulty getting its tab release to work. I asked if he had ever used one, and he replied no, so I suggested he hand it to me. Sure enough, the safety release tab had broken off, and the nozzle could not be depressed, rendering the unit non-functional. By now the engine fire was cooking up nicely, flames licking four feet in the air.

"Where did she pick this up?" I asked.

"Wal-Mart" he replied. I burst out laughing. At that moment, a kid approached and asked if he could help. "Yes" I immediately replied. "You see that van across the highway? you have 30 seconds to get over there and get the fire extinguisher, inside the sliding door. Do everyone here a favour and DO NOT get run down!"

He trotted off; thankfully traffic was light, and slowing to pass the scene. Several younger guys had just helped the driver out of his window, but the girl in the back was still pinned, motionless.

"Here it is Sir!" The kid was back with my fire extinguisher. The engine fire was large now, and flaming out from the open engine compartment and left wheel well, licking 10 feet into the air.

"Okay Sir." I said to the gentleman who brought the first useless extinguisher, "When you arrive at a scene like this, it's best to bring proper equipment, like this Garrison extinguisher....bought at Canadian Tire." I deadpanned, then pulled the clip, and aimed, depressing the trigger firmly.

'Fllloooofffffffff' is the only way I can describe the rather pathetic manner in which dry chemical extinguishers release their contents. The stuff doesn't shoot out, It kind of splurts out, anemically. Three seconds and half the contents of my extinguisher later the fire was out.

About 20 people were now near enough to be considered helping out, including at least half a dozen younger men. "Okay gentleman, you have two minutes, rip that door off and get her out!"

(to be continued)

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Doctor Death

About ten years ago at Air Traffic Control school my class was having lunch, with everyone getting to know each other. I remember a classmate ask me; "So tell me about you Chiles, what have you been up to before this?" I told them a bit about myself, as well as a story about some of my driving adventures. After I was done, he just said; "Jeez, so your name isn't David, it's Doctor Death!"

I really have no idea why, but for some reason over the past twenty odd years I have seen a lot of situations, collisions mostly, in which people have died. And when I say this, I don't mean I happen to drive by just after the emergency vehicles get there and start rescuing people and cleaning up. Usually the collision occors directly in front of me, or that I arrive at the scene within seconds.

Generally I am the person who dials 911 to get the emergency services rolling, and I cant count the times I have had to sit in the back of a cruiser to write out a statement for the police. I have been called to court to testify on a few occasions, and have testified in a criminal trial against a driver who was eventually found guilty of Dangerous Driving (cause death), which resulted in a four year prison term.

In my van I have fire extinguisher number 6 mounted just inside the driver side sliding door, with number 7 ziptied under the passenger seat. That means I have used numbers 1 through 5 putting out the various car fires that I happened to come across.

I have seen things that have made me cry, made me laugh, and made me shake my head in amazement. I have also turned away from the aftermath of a collision puking my guts out, been blessed, been assaulted, been thanked, been yelled at, and even helped a cop out who decided to puke his guts out just after me.

I have seen near miraculous situations where people survived what seemed unsurvivable collisions, and seen people die for hardly any reason whatsoever.

In all of these situations, however, I have been watched by a man; a man who sometimes does his job and takes life away with him, and for whatever reason, at other times, hangs back with the few onlookers who have arrived, just to watch and leave emptyhanded.