We drove to Florida over the weekend, leaving Friday afternoon and arriving on Saturday morning, in a quest to find a house for our upcoming move. We drove all night so we could arrive early and look around, as our first appointment was at 10am. (Some people think we’re crazy for driving all night but it was far less expensive, we didn’t have to hassle with flying and renting a car, and we could take the dogs along for a short vacation.)
Everything went well and we made great time. We even had time, once we got into Florida, to stop for a little while in a rest area and take naps. There really was only one memorable incident during the entire trip. Around 2am, I was driving while Barrie slept. We were in South Georgia right at exit 2, just 2 miles from the Florida line. There were three lanes going each direction with a median and guardrail in between. I was in the middle lane, driving about 75 mph and there were two semi trucks about 200 yards ahead of me in the same lane.
As I got a little closer to the trucks, the one in front put on his brakes and slowed down abruptly, as did the one behind him. There was nothing I could see in the road ahead so I moved over to the left lane, slowed a little and kept going. I noticed the trucks were stopping and I put on the brake again, still not seeing anything wrong. Suddenly, as I passed the lead truck, I saw the problem. In the center lane was a pickup truck, badly crumpled in the front and back, completely without lights and surrounded by smoke. I pulled off into the median and slowed to a stop.
Barrie had awoken by this time and asked “What’s the matter?” “Accident,” I said, and put our truck in park. I got out and went back toward the truck, wondering what I was about to find. There was a man coming from the other side of the highway who was on the phone calling 911. I could see the driver moving a little and could see someone in the passenger seat as well. I tried the door handle but it was locked. I knocked on the window and the driver opened the door about two inches. It was stuck because of the front end damage.
I pulled/pushed the door open a little further. There were four men inside the truck. The “smoke” was actually steam from the leaking antifreeze and it had filled up the cab. I asked if everyone was OK. The driver said he was and stepped out. There was an immediate smell of alcohol emanating from the inside of the truck, even over the smell of the antifreeze. The man who was on the phone said he couldn’t get through to 911 so I stepped back and dialed it myself. I told the dispatcher what had happened and filled her in on the details. She asked if anyone was hurt and I told her, as far as I could tell, all the injuries were minor in nature, nothing life threatening.
One by one the men stumbled out. They were all Hispanic, my guess Mexican migrant workers, and each was walking on his own. One was limping; one was bleeding from the left side of his face near his eye and a third was holding his left arm. They were all obviously stunned by what happened but all were alive and doing fairly well considering the impact they had just been through.
As I moved each one over toward the median, away from the truck, I heard Barrie yell “Watch out!” Instinctively I stepped quickly toward the median, off the roadway, and looked back toward the North. A car, a Ford Taurus, locked his brakes up and slid from the back of the semi, past me, and stopped about 30 feet in front of the wrecked vehicle, a distance of almost 100 feet. Fortunately he slid straight, in the left lane, and the lane was clear. When he came to a stop, Barrie went over to his car, letting him know just what she thought of his driving skills, or lack thereof. She said later that he was about 20 years old, was clutching the steering wheel in shock, and when she yelled at him big tears welled up in his eyes. Obviously the incident scared him so she let him off the hook. (Little does he know that if he had slid a little to the left side and hit me, or the back of her truck, the four men in the accident would not have been the casualties of the night. Barrie would have killed him without blinking an eye.)
Another truck stopped in the left lane, behind the accident scene, and finally blocked the road. The three passengers were milling about on the median, one holding his left arm, the one who was limping lying down on the grass for a few minutes. As we gained better control of the accident scene, I noticed the driver of the wrecked truck pulling beer out of the cab. He pulled a case-sized Corona box out of the back seat and began putting loose bottles in it. He gathered all the full beers and took them over to the median, dumping them out and scattering them, before tearing the box into pieces and stuffing it under the guardrail. He then went back to the truck to get the empty bottles. He gathered up the empties and took them to the other side of the highway, dumping them in the bushes. I’m not sure if he thought no one was watching him or what, but he methodically got rid of the “evidence” that was in the truck. One of the others saw me watching him and he said “He was not drinking.” I don’t know if he was or not but I’d leave that up to the police, who arrived shortly afterward.
Three state patrol officers arrived, one behind the other, down the on-ramp, which was about 100 yards ahead of the accident. One floored his cruiser, the engine straining, and went to the back of the accident scene where he parked across the road to block traffic. (I couldn’t see how many vehicles were stopped behind the accident but I’m sure there were at least 20 or 30. It was about 2:10am.) The other two parked off the right side of the road and walked over to the group of men. One asked who had been driving and the tall, skinny one from the driver’s seat said he was. The officer asked him a couple of questions I didn’t hear, then walked to the back of the truck. The two officers seemed to disappear for a while as the men stood around waiting, standing well away from where the beer had been dumped.
It seemed things were finally under control. The police had arrived, traffic was stopped and an ambulance was weaving its way through the stopped traffic. A police officer was talking to one of the other men who had stopped to help. When he walked toward his truck, I approached the officer myself.
“Did he tell you they got al the beer out of the truck and dumped it over there in the median?” I asked.
“Did you witness the accident?” she asked.
“No,” I said. “I rolled up right after and called it in,” I said.
“OK. No, he didn’t tell me that” the officer responded.
“The driver removed a case of Corona and dumped it over there,” I told her.
“OK, thanks” she said. “I’ll let the other guys know. You can go if you want. Thanks for your help.”
“You’re welcome” I responded, and went to join Barrie and get back on the road. “Did you tell them about the beer?” Barrie asked me.
“Those guys were drunk” Barrie said. “They could easily have killed someone.”
“You’re absolutely right,” I said. If we’d have arrived just seconds earlier, they could have killed us. They’re just lucky that truck saw them and stopped. Otherwise, he’d have killed them. It could have been really, really bad.”
We drove into Florida less than two minutes later and continued our trip. Suddenly, Barrie was no longer sleepy and we talked the rest of the way there. We understood how close we’d come to being involved in a very serious accident, one that could have possibly been fatal. We also understood how completely lucky those four men were, even if it was just stupid luck. Their truck had apparently fun off the road, hit something on the front, spun and hit the back, which then sent it back out on the roadway. The driver hadn’t seemed to know what had happened so I’m guessing he’d fallen asleep at the wheel. I still don’t know if he was drunk or not but left that up to the police. The kid who had slid all the way through the accident scene could easily have killed me or someone else. (I thanked Barrie later for saving my life.)
Some people may call me a rat or a snitch for telling the police about the beer in the truck and the fact that the driver had quickly removed it before the police arrived. Say what you will but considering what could have happened, I wanted to make sure they got the message. He put my wife and me in danger, as well as everyone else on the road that night. And the law enforcement in me wouldn’t let it go. Drinking and driving at those speeds endangers everyone. And we have a whole life to live.