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Today I was coming into work on US36 when I saw the cars in front of me start to scatter toward the outside lanes. Simultaneously, a column of steam started unfurling from the turn lane, its source masked for the moment by a vehicle ahead of me. Traffic in oncoming lanes was slowing as well, and as I continued carefully forward I saw a 1980's era sedan with its front nearly torn off. The driver's-side wheel was coming to a rest on the pavement a couple of yards in front of the car and broken glass was still spilling from the driver's side. The hood was completely torn off and the radiator was belching clouds of steam, but I didn't see any signs of a fire. From where I was sitting, I couldn't see anything recognizable as a driver.

By the time I got pulled over and had my hazards on, other cars had stopped and drivers were on the phone with emergency services. As I moved toward the car, I kept catching snatches of their conversations - "... just drove over him ...," "... and he's not responsive to ...," "... involving a passenger car and a semi ..." Looking west, I saw a big rig stopped on the left-hand lane with its flashers on and the driver's door open.

I walked around the car to the passenger side which was empty. Looking through the crazed windshield, I could barely make out a human hand moving weakly. I walked back around to the other side where two paint-spattered workers were asking the driver if he was okay. How they had determined gender is beyond me as all I could see was the bloody top of the driver's head sticking out of the collapsed window frame. The A pillar had nearly crushed his head and his arm was awkwardly positioned on the frame. Moving in closer, I told the guy to stay put and that help was on the way. Some of the drivers who had stopped and were on the phone with 911 were trying to explain where we were, so I tossed them some road names.

At this point, the driver began to thrash around. The passenger compartment was so crammed in on him that his movements were causing the horn to periodically toot weakly. Worried that he would injure himself more than he already had, I told him to stop moving and wait for the emergency crews. The paint crew had moved away and one of the witnesses had his hand over his mouth as if he were going to throw up. Standing with my arm up on the top of the car leaning down slightly toward the driver, I was the last guy standing by the door. "Hold on buddy, just stay put and don't move." Hearing myself talk, I noticed a tremor in my voice that isn't normally there.

The first emergency vehicles on the scene were two ambulances coming eastbound. They stopped, one in the left lane and one in the turn lane in front of where the smashed up sedan was still smoking. The paramedics hopped out and ran up to the car. They glanced at the driver and asked if there were any other injured people. Some witnesses pointed at the stopped semi and said that it was the other vehicle involved in the crash and that they didn't think the driver had been hurt. The first medic on the scene leaned over the driver and said "Ma'am, can you speak to me?" while noting the blood oozing from the driver's head.

"I think it's a guy," I mentioned quietly. The medic turned to look at me as he straightened and pulled on some blue latex gloves.

"It's a dude?" His face contorted in a look of discomfort that would have been more at place on a supermarket greeter who committed a similar social faux pas when addressing a customer. He turned to one of his associates and asked if they'd called someone and when he leaned over he smoothly covered his previous slip: "Hey man, I need you to ..." At that point, I figured I was less of a help than a hindrance and stepped away to let the professionals work. Medics were getting equipment out from both sides of the ambulance parked in the left lane, so traffic had come to a stop. I crossed back over to my car and left. As I drove on to work, a steady stream of emergency vehicles came westbound on 36. I didn't keep track but I saw several police cars, a number of fire engines and a fire chief's SUV.

I hope the driver makes it.
  2009-02-11
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