Friday, April 20, 2007
In April, 1992, 15 years ago, I investigated a traffic accident. A 17 year old boy and three of his friends rode out to the beach after school. They cruised out in the boys truck, a small Dodge Dakota, the four of them on the bench seat of the truck. It was a stick shift, so there really wasn't room for all of them, but they huddled close together, no one wore a seat belt. They stopped at a small store where they knew that id's would not be checked, and bought some beer. They drank the beer, laughed and enjoyed each other's company as they drove towards the beach on that spring day. Two of the girls were 15, the other was 16 years old. The road narrows to one lane in each direction onto the bridge over the intercoastal waterway, then continues to be narrow and ends at the Gulf of Mexico at the public beach area. Between the bridge and the end of the road there is a boat ramp, and the area is very sandy where the boat trailers park. Sometimes this area is congested if a lot of tourists are headed to the beach. I think the cars in front of him may have stopped short and the boy braked hard and lost control of the truck. Pick-up trucks are notoriously light in the rear end, and it skidded sideways and headed into the oncoming lane. A car hit the truck and sent it spinning and rolling. It ended upside down, facing the roadway. The two fifteen year old girls were partially ejected out the passenger window, and lay dead face down in the sand -their arms entwined and their shoulder length hair disheveled. The boy was conscious, and being loaded in an ambulance. I think he had a broken leg. The girl that had been sitting next to him had been impaled with the floor gear shift knob. She survived with a broken pelvis, two broken femurs and a pierced bladder. The driver in the oncoming car was not seriously injured. Backpacks belonging to the kids were strewn all over the shoulder of the road, and none of the kids had identification on them. I collected the student id's from the backpacks and took them to the hospital. I instructed the dispatcher to notify all the parents and have them respond to the hospital. The three girls looked a lot alike, and I had no idea which of them was critically injured and which two were dead. As the first mother arrived, a helicopter was standing by to take the critically injured girl to a larger hospital. I asked the first mother if she knew her daughter's friends as I took her in to see the injured girl. (I remember thinking, "will she be the lucky one?") She recognized the girl as one of her daughter's best friends. She then began to ask where her daughter was. I took her up the hallway to the quiet room (I don't know why they call it that), where I broke the tragic news to her that changed her life forever. Giving someone that "regret to inform you" news is just like punching them in the stomach. They double over and make the sounds of a fatally injured animal. Just then, the father walked in and I had to repeat the punch. Another set of parents arrived and I had to give them the bad news. I have thought about this case a lot lately. I told it in detail to my son. I explained to him how a mistake involving alcohol can affect the rest of your life, and the life of your loved ones. I don't know who is better off, the kids that survived or the kids that died. The surviving girl is still in a wheel chair and can probably never have children. The boy is still on felony probation for being the responsible driver in the accident. The incident also impacted me forever; that is why I am so fearful for my son.