What were you doing on December 3rd, 1998?
On the evening of December 3rd, 1998, my wife and I went out for dinner. It was both cold and rainy that night, which made it a particularly bad night to run out of gas. Which, of course, is exactly what happened. The lights in the dash of my Chevy Astro had burned out so I never saw the fuel guage pointing to E.
My van coasted to a stop on the side of I-40 near Sara Road. There’s no exit off the interstate there, so we had to walk either a mile east to Mustang Road, or a mile west to Morgan road. We picked Mustang road, and headed out.
At this point, it was dark, raining and cold. I told my wife Susan to stay in the car, but she insisted on coming with me. It’s a good thing she did, she probably saved my life. I was wearing the absolute worst clothes possible — a long sleeve black t-shirt, complete with black shoes, and a black baseball cap.
We began walking down the side of the interstate together, holding hands. We were walking in the emergency lane at first, but Susan felt that was too close to traffic. We then moved to the outside shoulder, but again Susan felt like that was too close to traffic. Eventually, we began walking on the outside of the metal guard rail, which was really beginning to piss me off because the grass was wet and slippery.
We came to the bridge at Sara Road, and came up with the idea that we could probably climb the embankment and take a shortcut to my dad’s house, who lives near Sara Road. We were standing there, holding hands and assessing the situation, when I saw Susan turn around and say, “oh my God.”
When truly awesome things happen in your life, your eyes can deceive you. When I turned and looked I couldn’t see anything, but I did hear the sound of tires screeching. My reflexes caused me to turn and begin to jump, but it was too late.
A pickup truck travelling 75mph had just hit me in the back.
I can remember everything before, during, and after the impact. The pickup had hydroplaned and blown out its rear tire, which caused the truck to begin sliding sideways. The rear of the truck came up over the metal guardrail, and struck me in the back, launching me about 30 feet down the embankment and into a muddy ditch.
Slowly, the world began spinning. I could see my wife and realized she was screaming and crying. She began to run down the hillside but I told her to go for help. She ran down the road, waving her arms wildly, and this is when I realized I could not breath.
I tried to breath in, but I couldn’t. I’ve never been a very religious person, but at that moment I closed my eyes and said to myself, “this is it.” Suddenly, I felt myself gasp. Then again. I was breathing, that was a good start. I slowly looked at my body to see what damage was done. I could feel everything and move everything. My arm was stinging like hell and I could see it was bleeding, even in the heavy rain.
Another motorist had stopped to check on the people in the pickup. My wife ran up to them screaming, “you just kiled my husband!” The people standing there were confused; they hadn’t even seen us on the side of the road. Susan grabbed the cellphone out of one of their hands and dialed 911. She told the people on the phone that a truck had run off the road and hit me. She also called my dad.
“Denny,” she said. “We were on I-40, and we ran out of gas …”
“Ok, I’m on my way,” my dad replied.
“Wait, there’s more,” Susan said. She told him what had happened, he muttered an expletive or two, and hung up.
About this time, my wife came down the hillside to check on me, with the motorist who had stopped. “I don’t think you should move,” the guy told me. “If I’m going to die, it’s not going to be here in this muddy ditch,” I responded, and with both of their help, I walked back up the hill to the underpass.
When I got to the underpass, the passenger in the car (a kid, probably 13 or 14) came over to me and said, “man, how ya feeling?”
“Like I just got hit by a truck,” I responded, and lied down. He said something else to me, and I said, “look kid, I’m a pretty easy going person but your mother just hit me with her car so I’m not in a great mood at the moment.” He walked away.
About five minutes later (it seems instantly to me), the ambulance pulled up.
“Where’s the body?” they asked.
“I’m the body,” I replied.
The paramedic looked at me and said we needed to go to the emergency room. “Let’s go,” I said, and started to get up. They all freaked out and said, “no, you need to go on this stretcher.” They pulled out the stretcher and I laid down on it. Then they put a neck brace on me. Right about this time is when my father pulled up.
“It’s not as bad as it looks,” my wife told him. The main thing I remember about that moment is my dad was smoking heavily, and I was covered in gasoline from the pickup truck (hitting the guardrail had caused the gas tank to rupture) and I was really worried he was going to set me on fire — that would have really topped the night off.
My other concern was that the two paramedics were going to be able to lift me into the ambulance. I’m 6’0 and 300+ pounds. The guy at my feet was a big guy, about my size. The other guy was about 70 years old and 100lbs maybe — and that’s the guy that insisted on picking up my head! I just knew they were going to drop me, but they didn’t.
The ambulance ride seemed to take forever. When we arrived, my mother was on her way there as well, and showed up moments later. I immediately went for x-rays, so they could see the amount of damage I had taken. And the answer was … none. Then it was back to the operating room, where I received stitches for the laceration on my arm. Then, it was back down to x-ray, because no one could believe there wouldn’t be any damage. They all came back negative (haha, get it?). No damage, whatsoever.
After a four hour stay in the emergency room, I was dismissed. As I went to leave, I hopped off the bed and immediately realized that I could neither walk nor stand up. I remained standing and bent over at the waist until they arrived with a wheel chair. I was rolled out to my dad’s truck, and needed help getting up into that too. My back had already begun to swell and bruise.
In the end, I walked away with 14 stitches and a bruise on my back the size of a medium pizza. It was a great bruise too, it turned every color you could imagine. Not just blue and purple, but yellow, green, and all other kinds of funky colors. I also experienced some burning in my leg that week from pressure on my psiotic nerve. That too was temporary.
I was off work for one complete week, and returned to work with one hell of a story.
The legal and financial aftermath of this event was fairly minimal. We ended up having to sue the driver’s insurance company because there was some question whether they had hydroplaned, which blew out the tire, or whether the tire had blown out, which caused them to hydroplane. Their stance was, if the blow out caused the drive to lose control, then that was “an act of God” and therefore not covered. In the end my lawyer convinced them that God had not purposefully run over me in a truck, and they agreed to pay my medical bills (more importantly, the ambulance ride) as well as give me about $3000 bucks.
I can’t say that my back is 100% anymore. It hurts sometimes if I sit in the same position too long or if I try to move something a little to heavy (or even stand around too long sometimes), but it’s really a small price to pay. Things could have ended up a lot, lot worse. Had I been standing 6 inches to the left, the truck would have broken my back. Had I been standing two or three feet to the left, the truck would have went over the top of me, killing me instantly. A little back pain isn’t so bad.
I can’t honestly say that I think about the accident every day, but I can say that when things get a little rough or I find myself getting mad or frustrated over the little things, I do think back to that day and try to remember that every day since then has been a gift.
These are pictures my dad took the following morning.
This is where the truck lost control. Note the skid marks that lead off the road.
The path of the truck, sliding down the ditch.
More tire tracks.
The guard rail.
Notice how the metal stakes that go into the ground are bent.
The guard rail, the truck tracks, and my van (with no gas).
More bent guard rails.
Me, with some bandages, flowers, candy, and pain-pills.
Coulda been worse.