Friday, December 19, 2008

A Red-Letter Day

There are days etched into brain cells such as December 7, September 11, and November 22. Many of us have those personal, red-letter days--good or bad--we'll never forget this side of dementia or death.

One of mine is December 19. One-half of a family died that day in a snow-filled ditch following a needless, senseless traffic accident. A man, who had just finished drinking a few beers with friends, ran a stop sign with his pickup truck. It hit the family's van, driving it into the far ditch of a U.S. highway. The truck overturned and another car behind the van struck it.

The family was heading north to do some Christmas shopping in Kansas City. The mother, in the front passenger seat, and her teenage daughter, in a seat behind her, died at the scene. The father, who was driving, and his son survived. It was close, but splendid paramedics on the ground and in the air kept them going until they reached a trauma center. The heros in that place took over. After weeks the father and son left with bolts, pins, plates, crutches and broken hearts.

Yellow blankets completely covered the still forms of mother and daughter. Tears rolled down the cheeks of paramedics, men and women, as they worked to save father and son. Plastic bags, quickly ripped open to free life-saving tools and medications, fluttered on bloody snow.

There was a lady with a broken leg in the car that had been following the van. She sat behind the steering wheel, not complaining and very gracious, until after the med-evac helicopter arrived and left with the father and son.

When I first arrived, the driver who had run the stop sign was wandering around his truck worrying about the damage to it. He didn't seem to notice the victims' fates until I put handcuffs on him. The undersheriff arrived and hauled him to jail. It didn't seem quick enough. I could sense others turning on the man responsible for the twisted steel, broken glass and motionless bodies. Order had yet to be firmly reestablished.

There weren't enough badge wearers there. The ones who were seemed to be taking their cues from me, even though on paper I wasn't a supervisor. Training took over. Disorder rolled back.

This surreal scene from so long ago, out of all I witnessed in 15 years of law enforcement work, comes back to me even in the midst of a sound, summer's night sleep. Sometimes a helicopter flying overhead the farm makes it all come back. I once again feel the grains of road salt and ice kicked up by rotor blades prick my face. I remember the cold, the sadness, the loss, the anger, and two yellow-draped bodies laid out on bloody snow.

Hug the ones you love. Drive safely.

No comments: