A call that swirls through my head on the bad days
Long ago, on a highway far, far away, a pickup truck was traveling more than twice the posted speed limit
By Justin Schorr
I have seen a great many things while wearing this uniform. Most of them unusual, a few funny, but more than I care to mention haunt me daily. These are the calls that swirl through my head on the bad days when I wonder “Am I in the right line of work?”
Long ago, on a highway far, far away, a pickup truck was traveling more than twice the posted speed limit. As it made the large arcing left hand turn north, the driver began to feel the tell tale bumpbumpbumpbumpbump of the centerline. Clearly oblivious to this warning, the truck made no attempt to straighten out like the thousands of other cars before it.
Coming the other way was a similar truck. Actually, it was the same make and model; the only difference was that one was black and the other white. We knew that because pieces of the truck beds were still recognizable when we arrived minutes later.
The northbound truck, estimated at 90 mph, drifted more than 10 feet over the centerline, striking the southbound truck directly square head on. Witnesses described a thunderous twisting of metal, then sudden silence. The trucks didn't hit and spin out, tires screeching to a halt yards away. Nor did they hit and bounce off one another, rear wheels raising up into the air and slamming back down to the pavement. No, these two trucks collided with such force that they became entangled with one another and simply stopped in place.
It was this finding that led the state police to estimate that the southbound truck was also traveling at a very similar rate of speed. That made some sense to 21-year-old me who was tasked with determining if either driver was still alive.
There was no place to start, really.
Half the cab of the black truck was inside the bed of the black truck, as if it had been cut in half and set there. The black truck was similar, except that the black cab, and the other half of the white cab, seemed to be occupying the same space. Two steering wheels, or at least what remained of steering wheels, were mere inches from one another, side by side. Fabric from two distinct vehicles was everywhere and it was impossible to discern where one ended and the other began.
Minutes into my evaluation, I was able to discover one person somewhat beneath the two trucks, but still seat belted to what looked like a chair with no bottom. The positioning was not conducive to life so I kept looking. There had to be at least one other person in there somewhere.
Tucked almost impossibly behind what was later decided to be the transmission with a seat wrapped around it, was the second driver. He was also long past any efforts I could make to help him.
Being the only fire engine for 30 minutes in any direction, I remained on scene in case the trucks caught fire as the tow trucks pulled them apart. The medical examiner had yet to access the bodies and this was deemed to be the best chance at getting to them.
After an hour of pulling, cutting, and twisting the metal with hand tools, we finally made an opening large enough to access the driver of the south bound truck, the one that didn't cross the line. The body was crunched into a fetal position and our efforts had now allowed the legs to be reached. As one tow truck began to pull again, something rolled out. Of all the things we had seen to that point, the thing now rolling slowly down the highway made us all the more frustrated.
A single can of beer, still leaking, had become dislodged from the body, likely in his lap when the collision occurred.
And he was the one who didn't cross over the center line.