Nov 102008

On the night of November the 8th 2008, I was driving alone in my trusty Neon towards home from the pharmacy. It was around 8 pm. I was enjoying a podcast on the iPhone (jacked in to my iPod-aware car stereo) but decided not to stop at McDonalds for a ‘snack’ to extend my listening pleasure.

Turns out, on this night I should have stopped.

As I was heading down a long unlit two-lane country road towards my rural abode, I came up over a rise with a newly-constructed intersection just ahead. I did not see a stop sign for my lane (because there wasn’t one) and thusly had not slowed for the intersection.

About 30 feet from the intersection, I became aware of a giant Cadillac sailing through from my left, perpendicular to my path, from that new subdivision road. I bound up my brakes immediately and before the impact I was thinking “did I miss a stop sign?”.

BANG! Super loud explosion, then brief blackness, the sensation of spinning and the screeching of tires. Then as quickly as it started, the squealing stopped and I felt no motion or sound. I briefly polled my body for any reports of pain and was relieved to receive no immediate replies.

Then I became aware of smell and temperature. I could see that the air bags had popped and were now deflated, but the smoke and the smell and the heat made me think ‘fire’, not ‘airbag propellent’. I got a little panicky, thinking the car was about to erupt in flame with me strapped in to my seat. I grappled for the seat belt release and of course couldn’t find it quickly. When that was done I started grappling for the door and in my mounting monkey-brain terror I could not even recall where on the door the handle was. When I finally got it, the door mercifully opened and I propelled myself out and away from my car and luckily my legs were functional and unbroken, because otherwise that move would have made things much worse. And as one who has broken his legs quite seriously before, I know what bad is.

As I stopped and stood I saw that right in front of me was the drivers side of the Cadillac, driver’s door open and a very elderly man sitting sideways in it looking kind of dejected at the ground. He looked up at me rather startled and I found myself apologizing for scaring him and explaining that I was darting out of a possibly-flaming car. After I got my breath back I looked around and was completely disoriented. Since both cars had spun an unknown amount, I was not sure which road was which. There were no street lights and although our car lights were on I could not really discern direction. To my left and right I saw stop signs. Was that the road I was on? Could they really have added stop signs to the old road and made the new undeveloped road the ‘thru’ road? Or was it a 4-way stop and we BOTH ran a stop sign at the exact same time?

I remembered what it said on the back of my insurance card. Check for injured people, don’t talk about blame, and call the police. So first I re-checked myself. No injuries. I felt pretty good, better than normal actually. Endorphins and adrenaline, no doubt. I checked with the other driver, he had no passengers and he was ambulatory. I went back to my car which was steaming at the front but definitely not on fire. The interior lights still worked and I was able to find my iPhone, which had been flung out of it’s car holster and under the passenger footwell. I was not sure I was supposed to use 911 to report an accident with no injuries, but I did anyway. They were prompt and nice and got my location from the phone and patched me through to the police, who were also prompt and nice and said a cruiser was on the way.

The Cadillac driver offered me a seat in his car while waiting, which I accepted because it was pretty cold and I had stupidly left the house without a jacket. As we sat there, each and every car that came through stopped and asked if everyone was alright and if they should call the police for us. A pickup truck driver stopped and set up cones around my car, which was sitting with it’s front exploded in the middle of the intersecton.

After about five minutes I was feeling a lot more together and got out for a look around. I figured out that my car was now facing the opposite direction from my travel, having turned 180 degrees (or possibly 540, I don’t know). The Cadillac had turned about three-quarters of the way around and was facing nearly in my travel direction along the curb. I confirmed that there was a stop sign where the Cadillac came from and there was not one where I came from. Whew! I was not the dumbass of this event!

I called home and got voicemail, so I left a message. I called my insurance company and started the claim. They asked for the other driver’s info and he declined to give it to me. After a 20 minute wait that felt like three hours, the police arrived. The policeman was young, professional and got right to figuring out what happened. He figured it out pretty quickly. He had the Cadillac driver wait in the police car and gave me a statement form to fill out. I asked him to get me the other driver’s info for insurance and he said that would all be on the report I’d leave the scene with.

Soon I got a call from my lovely and shaking wife, voice aquiver. “I’ve got the kids dressed, we are heading out now”. I told her to stop, don’t worry, don’t rush out the door, don’t go anywhere, this thing is just getting going, I’d probably need picked up at the towing place anyway, etc etc. After the tow truck arrived I discovered that my car was going to be taken several towns away for some reason, even though there is a towing place nearby. It’s apparently the company the police department contracts with. So I checked with the officer, he gave me my preliminary report as promised and told me I was free to go. So I called home again and told them to come on out. Then I took some pics of my car with the iPhone.

Soon my family arrived in the minivan and they all got to see a crash scene with Daddy’s car as the main attraction. I insisted on driving home, very cautiously.

Update 11/14: I was completely unhurt in the accident. Good going Dodge Neon! Insurance process complete, my car is totalled, the other driver was at fault, getting paid the pre-accident retail value of my car, which will pay it off and leave me with a couple thousand. Sigh. Now I have to find and buy a car. This is not what I want to be doing right now.