But for a UPS truck….

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A driver died Wednesday in a crash involving two speeding cars on North Basin Street on Swan Island. The two were side-by-side northbound about 5:30 a.m. when a southbound semi approached. One driver swerved to avoid the truck, the other did not and struck the vehicle, police said. The driver in the collision, a 47-year-old man, died at the scene. The truck driver was not injured. The other speeding driver did not stop and left the scene. Police contacted and interviewed that driver, and ultimately determined that person was not involved in the crash.

Yesterday morning, I experienced the fragility of life up close and personal. The videos which follow detail a fatal automobile accident that occurred around 5:15am. I was behind the UPS semi-trailer involved in the crash when it happened- just far enough that I didn’t witness the collision, but I was the first person on the scene.

I came up behind a semi-trailer jackknifed as if it was attempting to made a sharp turn into a driveway off the right lane. The semi-trailer was stationary, which struck me as odd at first. Then I realized the gate may have been locked at such an early hour. I thought nothing of it and mentally prepared myself to pass on the left and continue on my way.

As I slowed to a stop, I noticed what appeared to be an unusually large amount of smoke or steam coming from in front of the semi-trailer. Seeing no traffic in the oncoming lanes, I moved to slowly pass on the left. I maneuvered around the semi-trailer…and as soon as I cleared it I understood I’d barely missed something horrible.

In front of the semi-trailer was a late model BMW sedan about 1/2 as wide as it had undoubtedly been moments prior. My stomach sank as I began to comprehend what was in front of me. My prior experience as an auto insurance claims adjustor told me it was terrible, but I didn’t yet fully comprehend the scope of the tragedy in front of me.

I pulled a few feet ahead, put my emergency flashers on, and walked quickly back to the accident scene.
Even in the pre-dawn darkness, it was immediately clear I’d be able to offer nothing in the way of assistance.

The entire right side of the BMW had been caved in by the impact. The driver’s motionless body hung out the passenger window, his head at an unnatural angle and his right arm dangling outside the door. It was immediately clear there was no way anyone could have hoped to survive that sort of impact. The driver was dead, and there was nothing I could do.

The driver of the semi-trailer appeared to be OK and was already on the phone calling 911. I waited for a few minutes, unsure of what to do but uncertain if I could leave the scene. There was nothing I could do; I hadn’t seen the accident occur and had nothing I could have contributed to the investigation. Recognizing I was about to lose my composure, I got back in my car, drove a couple hundred yards ahead, pulled into a parking lot…and immediately went to pieces. I sobbed uncontrollably for close to five minutes. Perhaps it was shock, or perhaps relief it wasn’t me lying dead in the wreckage. But for the UPS semi-trailer, you might not be reading this.

My body went numb. Adrenaline took over, and I forced myself to take deep breaths to keep myself from hyperventilating. It took a few minutes to calm down, but as I listened to the sirens of approaching police and emergency responders, I began to understand how incredibly fortunate I’d been…and lost it all over again.

Thankfully, I was only about three miles from home. Suddenly, getting back there was the only thing that mattered. Erin met me at the front door; I began to sob uncontrollably as soon as I saw her. She took me upstairs to bed where I laid in her arms and went to pieces all over again. I could barely speak; I could only articulate enough to let her know I hadn’t been in an accident.

All I knew at that moment was that I was safe- WE were safe. I didn’t yet know how fortunate I’d been and how close I may have been to being yet another fatality. As the morning went along and I began to check online news feeds from Portland’s TV stations, I began to understand how close I’d come to being involved…which wouldn’t have ended well for me.

Two vehicles were traveling at a high rate of speed. Judging from the damage to the BMW and my prior experience at accident scenes, I’d estimate the vehicles were traveling at least 50-60 MPH. Depending on which news report you listen to, the story seems to vary slightly, but it appears the vehicles were headed towards the UPS semi-trailer at well over the post 30 MPH speed limit. One car swerved to avoid the semi-trailer and hit it more or less head-on. The other vehicle fled the scene, though police were able to track down and question that driver, who was not arrested or charged.

Because the road was wet, there were no skid marks for investigators to calculate speed and direction of travel. Whatever the facts, a 47-year-old man died. He probably had a family, and undoubtedly people who loved him. I still can’t get that out of my mind.

If not for the UPS semi-trailer, it might have been my car the BMW struck head-on. The results might have been very different, in that my Honda CR-V isn’t the behemoth the UPS semi-trailer was. I’m grateful for the semi-trailer and the driver, who survived intact. He’s alive and uninjured…but he has to deal with the fact that he killed someone. No, he wasn’t at fault, but being involved in the death of another human being in any fashion is a tough thing to deal with. I’m struggling, and I was merely the first one on the scene moments after the accident happened. I can’t begin to imagine the emotions the driver’s trying to process.

There’s no way I could know what might have happened if the UPS semi-trailer hadn’t been in front of me. I’m grateful it was, and I recognize how incredibly fortunate I am. I’m trying not to be overly dramatic about it, but I’m glad to be alive. I’m still pretty emotional, but I’ll be OK in a day or two. I’m still around, which is certainly preferable to the alternative.

But for a UPS truck….

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