Today I learned that the back seats of Ohio State Trooper cruisers are not at all designed for people like me with long legs. In fact, to fit in it at all so that the officer could close the door to lock me in and take my statement, I had to sit nearly sideways! You'd think that if someone is already being put in the back of a cop car, there's enough difficult stuff going on in their lives such that a little bit of leg room is in order.
About 45 minutes before I found myself in this situation, we were traveling down I-70 East in the heavily falling wet snow, gusting wind, and crowded highway lanes. It was the kind of weather that should probably have kept us off the road, but if there's one thing that car culture teaches you, it's that nothing should stand in between you and your vehicle's destination, so there we were.
About six cars up, I saw headlights, and they were in my lane. "Oh no," I thought, "not another one of these high speed car chases." As I slowed us down, I watched the car spin out of control, cross over the median into the westbound lanes, cross back over the median and do two full spinning rotations, and then come to a stop. We passed a split second later, and the driver appeared to be slumped over in her seat.
I pulled onto the shoulder and as I was calling 911 to give them the milepost marker, Anna Lisa got out to go check on her. We were parked a little too close to the highway lane but we wanted to get some emergency personnel headed that way and check on the driver. A few other folks were pulling off too, one to help out, another to recover from being so shaken up by seeing the spin-out.
With the 911 operator on the line, I ran back to the car and confirmed with Anna Lisa and another passer-by that the driver was okay, just shaken up. It was her birthday, and she was on her way to the celebration. Her vehicle even seemed to be just fine, and I started to let the operator know that there were no injuries and just some possible towing to do.
And that's when the black pickup truck heading east side-swiped one of the vehicles that had stopped to help. The impact dented the car, pulled off its front fender, and dislodged the wheel, while sending other debris flying. On the truck, its front left wheel also appeared to be dislodged, and the driver barely controlled the vehicle as it passed within inches of our car and slid to a stop. I told the 911 operator that we now had ourselves more of a situation, and that there might be an injury. I heard her escalate it a bit and she said the state police would be there soon. I went to wave traffic off to the far lane, hoping to avoid a repeat.
Everyone ended up being fine. Several troopers arrived and inspected the situation. They took our statements and contact information. The original spin-out car was able to pull away on its own, and the two impacted vehicles were getting tow-trucks. Anna Lisa and I pulled out and drove (more slowly, more cautiously) to our destination.
We already know this, right? Split seconds of attention span and inches of maneuverability make all the difference in life and death when you're propelling these machines along at 70 miles/hour. And yet we still chat on our phones, feel around in the back seat, fiddle with the radio, drive too close in bad weather. I'll probably do so again.
Today, I'm thankful.