Saturday, February 09, 2008

Life's 2nd chances...

It was a clear and sunny day. I was driving in the #1 lane eastbound on Interstate 80 to Reno, approximately 5 miles east of Nyack Road in Placer County California. I went into a slight bend in the highway which happened to be in the shadow of a hill.

As I passed the transition point between bright daylight and the darkened shadow of the hill I saw the dark patch of pavement. My right foot came off the accelerator and started to gently press the brake. The dark patch was from snow melt and had very recently refroze as ice.

The instant my tires hit the ice, my car started to rotate clockwise. A feeling of dread flooded through my mind and body. The vehicle completed a 180 degree spin as it slid into the snowbank on the right hand side of the highway.

My vehicle was at a stop, and my hands still clutched the wheel. I started to breath in a deep sigh of relief and reflect on how close a call it had been. At this instant my eyes darted up drawn by some movement.

As my car had rotated completely around, it was now directly facing oncoming traffic (though gladly on the shoulder of the highway).

I look up and see a large black SUV coming down the same lane that my car had previously taken. (It was an LX470 which is basically a Land Cruiser; not as big as a Hummer, but certainly it was no RAV4) It hit the same patch of ice with predictable result. The rear end of the SUV slid around, and once the vehicle had rotated 45 degrees, the entire truck rolled over and was flying through the air directly headed for my car. An oversize SUV at highway speed, utterly out of control is looming large in the windshield.

The testimonials people give about big accidents always include "It all happened so fast." and "My life flashed before my eyes." The experience felt exactly like this. My brain had only sufficient time to conclude "oh my god, I'm going to die!" I'll never forget that feeling.

I don't know which part of the SUV made contact with my car, but the front of my vehicle was crushed past the front tires. My car bounced around and ended up skidding half-way out into the right most highway lane.

During the crash, the airbags deployed (both fired as I had a modestly heavy travel bag on the passenger side seat), and the air was filled with a smoky acrid smell. My mind was processing things in slow motion. I smelled the smoke, and for an instant I thought that maybe my car was on fire, but then realized the smell was from the airbags.

I don't recall feeling any pain though I noticed my right hand was bleeding. (the deployment of the air bag had smacked my hand/arm which then collided with the rear view mirror; I later found the rear view mirror on the floor in the back seat of the car; I would also later discover that my legs and chest must have hit something as I had some moderate bruising)

I was deeply disturbed that the occupants of the SUV were seriously hurt. I mean how could they not be? At that moment in time, I was actually afraid to get out of my car and see them. Like a coward, I didn't want to get out and look, so I called 911 on my cell phone. I spoke with the 911 operator who took my info before I hung up. This had probably taken about 60 seconds.

At that moment, I see a blur passing my car. Someone had stopped their vehicle a short distance down the highway and was running back to the scene. The man ran straight past my car and went to the SUV.

I opened my car door and staggered to my feet. Standing just outside of the car door, I started shaking quite noticeably. Part of it was from the very cold temperature, but in retrospect I think mostly from the shock of the event. I was shaking so much that I reached back into my car to get my coat. By the time I put my coat on and looked up, I noticed a lady walking along the top of the snowbank near my car. I didn't comprehend it at that moment, but she was the driver from the SUV. (She was the lone occupant, and amazingly she was unhurt. Seat belts really make all the difference in the world...)

She turned to me and asked me if I was alright. I replied that I thought I was okay. I turned my head back to look at my car, and then turned back to her. I said "You know, this is probably not a very safe place for us to be right now."

At precisely that moment, I caught size of a white blur. Another sedan had come around the corner and hit the same patch of ice. It took spun out and came flying across the road towards us. The lady standing on the snowbank screamed and jumped away. The white sedan crashed into the snowbank at a 45 degree angle about a foot in front of my car causing no injuries. (my car and the SUV were probably only about 2 car lengths apart) Amazingly the white sedan had hit neither of our vehicles, just the snowbank.

A young lady got out and looked around at the crumpled and destroyed front end of my car. She quipped, "Did I do that?". I replied that amazingly no, she completely missed both of our vehicles. The young lady got back into her car, pulled out of the snowbank, and drove off.

Miscellaneous post accident thoughts/notes
- 6 cars slid on the ice and crashed in that immediate area in about a 10 minute span of time. The snow melt must have just frozen over within the few minutes leading up to my accident(s).
- It was very dangerous to remain in my car for so long after the crash. I think that if I had someone else in the car with me, I would have responded much more quickly to the situation to get our bodies away from the danger zone. As I was alone, I acted much more slowly. I don't know why I have this tendency.
- the man who had run back to the scene was actually the husband of the driver of the SUV (they were driving separate vehicles). I spoke a little with the man and he remarked that my comments about the accident were so similar to his wife's. Apparently, when she lost control of her SUV she thought she was going to die, and she saw my vehicle and also thought that she was going to kill not just herself but whoever was in my car.

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