Accident on Broadway

A tragic afternoon

Posted in Musings on August 05, 2014

I heard the thud first — then a man was flying through the air. He somersaulted against the blue November sky, one, two times until making contact. He rolled again before coming to rest. A woman’s scream shot out, and my stomach and heart sunk to my feet. On both sides of the street people stood, frozen in place, shoes planted solidly on the ground — but not his shoes. They were tossed in opposite directions from the impact.

Breaking the spell in an instant, a woman ran. My mother, before anyone else could even think to move, darted out into the reddening street. “Don’t you dare move!” she yelled with an accusing finger pointed at the driver. She raced to the crumpled man’s side. My mother lifted his head as he began to choke on the bright red blood pouring from his mouth and nose. Moments later, I too ran into the street, not knowing what else to do. 

The stranger sputtered and gasped but the air couldn’t reach his lungs.

I saw the blood of this man, of this human being that could have been me, or my father, my friend, or my sister, running out onto the pavement. I turned away, back to the safety of my dad and sister. “Oh my god! It’s really bad,” I cried, tears flowing to my eyes, voice catching in my throat.

A young man, maybe in his late twenties, drove the truck. He was speeding through Broadway, as most of us do, when the man stepped out into the crosswalk. In a hurry to his home, the store, perhaps the bank, the driver failed to stop in time and in one fatal moment, two men’s lives were changed.

The stranger sputtered and gasped but the air couldn’t reach his lungs. “Ineffective breathing”, the medic calmly said. My father said the blood didn’t look right. Too frothy, as if it came from his lungs. That didn’t sound good. His body took the truck’s impact; his head hit the pavement. My mother said she saw brain tissue. How did this happen on such a beautiful, normal day?

I stood for a minute, just watching, scared and shocked. I kept thinking, ‘It doesn’t look good, it really doesn’t look good’. Then I ran back out into the street. My mom knelt on the pavement, holding his head in her hands. He was still sputtering blood, gasping for breath. “Shouldn’t we stop the bleeding?!” I exclaimed. “Take my shirt, wrap it around his head, stop the bleeding!” I yanked my clean white thermal over my head and put it against the man’s wounds. Who was he? Who was his family? Where was he going? Why didn’t the truck see him?

My mom knelt on the pavement, holding his head in her hands.

Sam* was a regular at the soup kitchen. He had dark hair, a mustache and a tan, weathered face. He wore a hooded sweatshirt and jeans that day. We assumed he was homeless, which gave us some relief. That’s an awful thing to admit, but the thought that Sam* might not have a wife and children at home was a welcome and comforting thought.

Every year in the U.S. about 5,000 pedestrians are killed and another 64,000 are injured in motor vehicle accidents (http://www.nhtsa.gov/Pedestrians). In my city of Santa Cruz, I have heard and read reports, in the last several months, of at least three vehicles striking a pedestrian while crossing the street — in at least one instance the driver was under the influence.

Biking accidents are also a common headline, and usually it’s because a driver doesn’t stop when he or she should — they run a red light in a race to the next one, or they’re distracted by a phone, the radio, or a passenger.

We are all constantly rushed and distracted in this world, and for what? Rushed so that we can reach our destination two minutes faster, distracted so that we can immediately respond to a text message. None of it is necessary, and on this day it proved deadly.

Every year in the U.S. about 5,000 pedestrians are killed by motor vehicles. http://www.nhtsa.gov/Pedestrians

The driver was in shock. He stood motionless by his truck as we finally left the scene. His face was red and his dirty baseball cap was drawn down over his eyes. How much would your life change after an awful accident like that? One bad decision on the road can cost a human life. Speeding isn’t brave or cool, running lights doesn’t prove anything to anyone — except that you’re careless and don’t realize the consequences of your reckless actions.

Next time you pull out of your driveway think of Sam* before you hit the gas pedal and lurch to ten above the speed limit. Think of every other person who has been in the wrong place at the wrong time and now no longer has the luxury of crossing the street or sitting behind the wheel.

Driving shouldn’t be taken lightly — every corner we round, every crosswalk we speed through, holds the responsibility of a human life. Treat driving with the respect it deserves and we can all cross the street without passing to the other side.