I have a personal story to tell. Please bear with me through this.
Unlike many other holidays, Halloween is not a day off for most working people. Nevertheless, the absence of a day off doesn’t inhibit people of all ages from partying Halloween evening — an activity that too often ends with an alcohol-related traffic crash.
According to the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission, Louisiana had 755 crashes recorded in 2010 during the 100 hours surrounding Halloween, second only to Mardi Gras, which had 870 crashes.
This is a topic that hits especially close to home because it was my life that was on the line, quite literally, Oct. 31, 2007.
Driving home from a day’s classes at Nicholls, I wasn’t drunk or drugged, speeding or on my phone. I was just attempting to navigate La. 20 while driving into the setting sun. My kids and I were going trick or treating that night.
It was around 5 p.m., and I was delayed leaving Thibodaux after classes because I worked a student job on campus to pay for gas while commuting.
As usual, a van was traveling below the speed limit and creating a backlog of cars. I thought it was safe to pass as a couple vehicles before me had done.
It was one of those moments when I was blinded by the brightness of the sun looming large on the horizon. If you’ve driven into the sunset at that time of day during the fall, you know what I’m describing. It’s still no excuse. I should have been in control of my vehicle at all times regardless of the conditions.
I didn’t see the oncoming car until we were nearly bumper to bumper. We both attempted to avoid each other — to the same side of the road. I was traveling at about 60 mph. I can only imagine his speed was about the same, so our combined speed was equivalent to each of us hitting a brick wall at about 120 mph.
I was wearing my seatbelt, and my airbags worked like they were supposed to. They saved my life.
Most people black out the details of a traumatic experience like a wreck. I remember everything up until I was out of my car and someone made me lie down on the side of the road. That’s when I started going into shock, I think.
I remember the sound of the crash. It’s not really like the sound effects in movies. Think of a car being crushed at a junk yard. That’s more like what it sounds like. Instant, loud, metallic and glass, crushed.
The force is tremendous. It’s not something that can easily be put into words. All of the air is knocked out of your lungs quite literally. At the same time you’re flying forward at 60 mph, an airbag is flying into your face at between 200 and 300 mph. A seatbelt is across your chest catching you and compressing your lungs (and, in my case, cracking a rib) in the process.
There is no time for your life to flash before your eyes. A crash like that happens too fast.
And, yet, it is painfully slow in my memory.
I remember every instant of our vehicles slinging around each other on the highway, locked in some sort of devilish Halloween dance. The rims of my tires, I would learn later, actually dug out portions of the road surface.
Somehow I lost my shoes in the wreck. I’m not sure how that happened. I don’t remember stepping on glass when I got out to check on the other driver. I didn’t even feel it, but the paramedics removed it from my feet.
I don’t remember what my Jeep looked like. I know the people from the van I was trying to pass stopped and someone from that vehicle made me lie down. They gave me a T-shirt to put under my head. Someone was bracing my head until the paramedics put me on a back board.
That woman was like an angel to me, trying to keep me conscious. She wanted me to sing with her. I couldn’t remember the words to “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” but I could recite “Because I Could Not Stop For Death” by Emily Dickinson. That’s what she listened to me say over and over for I don’t know how long.
For weeks after the wreck, I couldn’t remember the words to that song.
Strange how the mind works.
I wound up with a concussion, whiplash, a cracked rib from the seatbelt, a cut on my forehead from the airbag, a lingering respect for life and a couple of post-traumatic fears. The other driver broke his collar bone and his ankle.
I read somewhere once there is only a 30 percent chance that either of us might survive a head-on collision at highway speeds.
When the first responders reached the scene, they called for AirMed, Acadian Ambulance’s helicopter. If you’ve been on accident scenes, you know that means that they expect someone to be critically injured.
By all rights, we should have been.
Both of us were extremely fortunate.
This is probably one of the toughest columns I’ve ever written. Doing so forces me to relive every moment. It’s not pretty. It’s called trauma for a reason, and I suggest you avoid it if you can.
I’m telling you my story, in the most vivid way possible, so that you get the message. See that mangled car over there, in the middle of the page? That’s my 2002 Jeep Liberty, or what was left of her in the junk yard a few days after the wreck.
In my accident, neither driver was drunk or drugged, and it still happened. Neither of us was on the phone or texting. Think about how the chance for tragedy increases when you do any of those things. Why would you take the risk?
Highway crashes tend to increase during holiday periods, including Halloween, so the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission is urging motorists to remain sober, wear their seat belts and watch out for kids trick-or-treating on Halloween night.
The LHSC offers tips for motorists, trick-or-treaters and parents to keep this Halloween safe and enjoyable for everyone:
—Plan a safe way home before the festivities begin.
—If you’re impaired, use a taxi, call a sober friend or family member or use public transportation.
—If you see a drunk driver on the road, contact your local law enforcement agency.
—If you know someone who is about to drive while impaired, take his keys and help make other arrangements for him to get where he is going safely.
—Drive slowly and watch for children crossing the streets.
—Enter and exit driveways slowly and carefully.
—Be especially alert for children darting out between parked vehicles and from behind bushes and shrubs.