Another accident

Posted on March 15th, 2009 by george.
Categories: death, life, prayer.

Kayaking today was a bust.  We woke up early to have brekkie before the sun rose (this is the month of fasting for Baha’is), but then we went back to sleep.  By the time Lorenia and I got out of bed at 11am to find her sister Marianna already awake, the prospect of driving to Tampa to spend $225 for a half day at Busch Gardens had lost its appeal.  We settled on kayaking, in spite of Lorenia’s sunburn and allergy to mosquitoes (kudos to her bravery in that regard).  Rather than drive an hour to Orlando for kayaking in Wekiva Springs, we called a local place and decided to paddle through the mangrove swamp.  Unfortunately, upon arrival the owner informed us that he had rented his seven kayaks to a large group before we could get there.  Unfazed, we regrouped at Starbucks (for Marianna, obviously, it is the Fast) and revised our plan of attack.  We settled on putt-putt golf.

On the way to Starbucks we drove through the intersection where, three and a half years ago, I witnessed a fatal motorcycle accident.  I thought about it as we passed, as I do every time I drive through that intersection, but chose not to voice the memory to my passengers.  After Starbucks we got back in the car to drive about five blocks north to the miniature golf course.  Spring Break traffic was poking along at about 35mph, moving in pulses through the redlights.  We passed a motorcyclist tailgating an economy car in the left lane.  He was wearing a black helmet, but no shirt.

“I’m glad he’s wearing a helmet, but if he gets into an accident, his chest, arms, shoulders and all the skin on his torso are gone,” I said aloud.  I was thinking of a skidding accident, though, not a collision.

At that moment, someone about six cars ahead in his lane slowed to make a left turn.  I could see the traffic braking in his lane.  My lane was clear, but his was quickly coming to a complete stop.  I watched him in my rearview mirror, trying to inform him telepathically.  I lost sight of him behind the traffic in his lane.  Suddenly I heard his engine rev to the redline.  Was he being impatient?  A split second later, a sickening, crunching thud.  No tire screech.  Just 35 to zero in an instant.

I lifted my foot from the accelerator, unsure of what to do.  I remember thinking, “If I were I doctor, I would be required by law to stop.”  As distance grew between us and the accident, I saw the driver of the economy car get out and walk to the rear of his car to see what the heck had just transpired.  I considered calling 911, but most times I phone in accidents they tell me I’m the fifth caller.  Within a few seconds we made our turn into “Fantasy Adventure Golf.”  I sat in the car for a few minutes while Lorenia patiently talked me through it.

Looking back, it’s quite possible that his engine revved by accident as he panicked when reaching for the brake and hit the throttle instead.  At the time, however, it sure seemed as though he was using it to voice his impatience.  And it certainly isn’t intelligent to follow a car with only five feet between you and the bumper.  As Lorenia pointed out, physics always wins.

Still, he was wearing a helmet.  Shirt or no, I don’t wish accident or injury on anyone.  We all make our own choices when faced with this reality.  Were we callous to keep going?  Not really.  The world cannot afford to stop for every human death.  That is, assuming he died, which is a very good possibility.  We humans die at a rate of more than one per second.  We’re born even faster.  Life, for better or worse, always moves on.  Your circle of influence affects the size of the ripple through the fabric of society that your absence leaves, but in the scheme of the universe, we don’t register.  Thankfully for my sanity, I believe in an omnipotent and benevolent Creator, or else this line of reasoning might drive me to suicide.  I said two prayers for him:  a healing prayer in case he survived and is in a hospital as I type, and a prayer for the departed in case his soul has moved on to the next world.

You might find it interesting to go back and read my account of the last time I witnessed a motorcycle accident in Cocoa Beach, contrasting it with this one, given the knowledge that when I wrote the 2005 entry I was not a Baha’i and could not bring myself to believe in God.  I figure now that if I’ve seen two of these wrecks in five years, it must happen all the time.  Just like people dying.  And life always goes on, just like it did for us.

We played eighteen holes.



Comment on March 15th, 2009.

It was such a shocking and dull sound. :(

I think the hardest and most surprising part was hearing the impact only half a minute after you said the thing about not being dressed properly and the helmet. I’m just glad he was wearing a helmet, either way…


Comment on March 15th, 2009.

What an intense day! I just spent the last 3 hours dealing with the situation of not letting a drunk classmate drive himself home so that I didn’t have to live through another fatal car accident. Sadly, I told him that, and he didn’t care. It worked out in the end, but man, people are really clumsy with the lives that God has been gracious enough to give them. It’s just sad.


Comment on March 15th, 2009.

Ouch. Beware the Ides of March.


Comment on March 16th, 2009.

That’s a crazy story! FYI…even if you were a doctor, there’s no duty to act in most (if not all) states. You generally only have a duty to stop if you are a highway patrolman/policeman on duty. Law school comes in handy sometimes :)


Comment on March 17th, 2009.

And if you were a doctor and you DID stop, but left him in a state worse than he was, you’d be screwed. You have no duty to help unless you have a relationship with the person, or you’re a policeman, like Kristy said.


Comment on March 22nd, 2009.

It’s always a traumatic experience on some level to witness something lke this – a sudden tragedy. Though in your 2005 post comments, there was discussion about becoming numb about witnessing death, I don’t find that’s ever happened to me. I think in a clinical situation you have to stay somewhat disctanced, but I don’t know if I will ever get to the point where it doesn’t touch me on some deeper level to watch someone leave this world behind. Maybe it’s because I usually take care of children, but I feel it even when I see adults die. But as you said, we must continue to live our lives even as we observe and acknowledge death.

In this case, I’m glad you have a cool head and did keep driving. Secondary accidents, which result from drivers reacting to witnessing an accident, should be avoided by calmly driving away from the scene.
Over the past 10 years, I have stopped for several accidents, though I know I’m not legally required to do so. Once I reached a level of clnical competence that would allow me to assist until EMS arrived, I feel morally bound to help. A few times I felt or was told by rescue workers that my presence was a good thing (probably partly because I got immediately out of their way as soon as they were ready to take over and stayed only long enought to relate the specifics of what I had witnessed). Other times, the victims were not critically injured and my main contribution was calming them down, and whatever reassurance they took from the presence of a doctor even if I couldn’t really help alleviate their pain or actually treat their wounds without equipment. Speaking of wounds, in most cases, I don’t recommend even health professionals stop to help unless they carry a CPR barrier mask and gloves.

It was striking that this time, within the framework of your faith, in addition to the reflections on mortality, you had something you could actually do for the victim – pray for him. So in a way, you did stop to help.

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