Monday, July 20, 2009

911 Virgin

I am getting closer to having been on this planet for almost four decades. I've been all over this country and even done a healthy dose of traveling the world and with all this experience, I have never witnessed an accident first hand. I've heard the bangs, the crashes, and have been there to see the steam still rising and the trickle of automotive vital fluids still crossing the pavement but never the witness, until last weekend.

We were in the big city on our way across town via the freeway to eat at a new-to-us seafood place that supposedly had great reviews when it happened. As I often like to do whenever I am traveling a four lanes of freeway in the depths of the urban jungle, I was in the slow lane doing the speed limit and letting the natives speed past me in the other three lanes doing their high speed ballet of swerving around each other in the various lanes. A particular knot of cars had just gone rushing past me when the accident happened.

A silver Toyota in the middle of the knot suddenly swerved violently towards the concrete barrier in the center of the road. The drive locked up the brakes, smoke rolling from the tires as a dozen cars between myself and the Toyota all started checking up and swerving to avoid the car. The car over corrected and was suddenly swerving in my line then over correcting and back swerving in the fast lanes. Finally, the driver lost all sense of control and was doing lazy circles down the middle of the highway before finally with most of his speed now scrubbed off by the tires, smashed into the metal guardrail barricade in the slow lane.

Through all of this, I think my words were, "holy shit" as I braked and glanced in the rearview mirror to ensure I wasn't going to become a part of this as Mrs. Abbey screamed and Little Abbey continues to play with her plastic dinosaur safely belted up in her carseat. A white pickup in front of me pulled right behind the wrecked Toyota and I pulled directly in front of it and we both turned on our emergency flashers as everyone else sped on their way. In hind sight, we were both not from the city and all the others I guess were locals and had been there seen that.

My wife the doctor hopped out of the car to check on the occupants of the other car while I flipped open my cell and did something I had never done before, dialed 911. I had heard enough hysterical calls with the operator trying to get information to get responders on their way so I resolved to be calm and very descriptive. So when the 911 operators asked me to state my emergency I responded calmly, "I just witnessed a vehicle accident on I-235 in the westbound lanes just east of Exit 4 about a hundred yards. The vehicle spun in traffic and slammed pretty hard against the guardrail."

So I was a little taken back when the lady asked me where exit four was. I thought these people not only had the capability of triangulating on a cell phone signal but that our phone automatically routed us to the local 911 station so misunderstanding what she was asking me, I told her the name of the city. She corrected me and asked what road exit four was. Now all I had was a big green sign pointing right saying exit four so I really didn't know. But I turned off the direction finding function of our GPS and turned it to map mode so that it told me what exit I was approaching and told the lady. She told me to hang on while she transferred me to police.

The police answered and once again I went through the process down to trying to explain where exit four was on I-235. Once again I was transferred to a different police department and once again I went through trying to explain to the police where exit four was. How any sort of emergency response unit can operate without a map showing the exit numbers of the local freeway system is beyond me but evidently this city does. This third transfer seemed to have gotten me to the proper authorities because after figuring out where exit 4 was, they proceeded to ask me the make of the car in the accident, number of occupants and if anyone was hurt. By this time, the occupants were out of the car and walking around the side of the road looking very shaken but intact. The police took down my cell number and told me to stay where I was until they arrived.

Ten minutes later, they finally did and I walked down to give me statement of what I had seen which wasn't much. However, the police wasn't really interested in that. The guy driving the wrecked car said that he had been cut off by a black car but that car hadn't stopped. The officer said that since there was no public damage to the guardrail, there wasn't much he could do unless the black car stopped in and admitted to the incident. He wasn't even interested in what I or the driver of the white pickup had to say so we got back into our vehichles and while the car blocked traffic, we all got back underway. The funny thing about everything was that the Pakastani couple driving the wrecked car were actually driving a rental car. Their car had been involved in a wreck just the week before. I was sure glad I wasn't going to have to explain that one to my insurance.


R. Sherman said...

There are now signs along the major freeways in St. Louis to the effect of, "Accident? If there are no injuries, don't bother the police."

Par for the course, I guess.


Ed Abbey said...

R. Sherman - In hindsight, I probably wouldn't have called but at the time, I didn't know if there were injuries or not and I was still under the assumption that witnesses to all accidents were wanted. Perhaps now that I have lost my accident witness virginity, I won't be so naive next time.

geri said...

This is what I am scared of when we are on the expressway. People drive too fast that it's so easy to lose control and involve other careful drivers when accidents happen. It's just good all of you escaped unscathed. That was really scary.

The Real Mother Hen said...

This post is useful. I pay little attention to the Exit numbers on freeway and I probably cannot guide the emergency crew to where I am. In fact, I haven't made a 911 call and never thought much about it. This post is a reminder to me that I should be more mindful of the surrounding.

Having read this, it's time to go through my CPR training again :)

Murf said...

Did you actually see if there was another car that was the cause of it and not because this man was on the cell phone or, more likely the case, distracted by his wife telling him to slow down or that they just missed their exit or to not turn the radio station...?

Ed Abbey said...

Geri - That is typically why I drive in the slow lane and at the posted speed limit. However, that isn't a fail safe because on our last trip to Chicago, I just about got taken out by a guy going from the entrance ramp to the fast lane via four or five lanes of traffic all at once. Fortunately he saw me in the nick of time.

Mother Hen - I hadn't been paying attention but since the sign was only a hundred feet from where I stopped, it wasn't too hard to read.

I did see the black car go zooming by me but didn't see the interaction before the other car started spinning out of control. There were probably a dozen cars between me and him.

TC said...

There have been a lot of 911 issues in Madison in the last year. As in, due to poor response, people have died. And not just died, but were murdered.

I'm distressed to hear there are problems other places, too.

I've called 911 once. But never for an accident.

Three Score and Ten or more said...

In Georgia the exits on the freeway are mileposts,(exit 37 is 37 miles from the beginning of the freeway)so that any cretin can figure out the placement of a freeway accident. On country roads it is a miracle if anyone finds anything. 911 is a necessary scandal almost everywhere.

PhilippinesPHil said...

My mom has OnStar on her GM car. Its come in handy for times like you describe for them. They were either in or observed several accidents and fender benders, hit the OnStar operator, told 'em what was up and within seconds cops and or ambulances were on the way.

Its only chance that this is just the first real crash you've seen. Mark my words, you'll see many more. These things come by the bunch. STand by for more; that's my prediction...