It was a beautiful, crisp, clear day in October. Lunch was over and Katharine was moving along, doing 30, in her little red Mazda. The car chugged up the hill by the church...the hill that's curved and blind...right at its crest. The car in front of her suddenly and inexplicably swerved to the right. Instantly she knew why. Her entire view was taken over by the big, grey Dodge 4X4, hurtling straight at her! It was now more than two feet over her side of the road...and closing!
That was the last thing Katharine ever saw.
In the next millisecond, her little car was hit head-on by this out-of-control, tank.
I must have been only one or two cars behind that truck. As I neared the crest of the same hill, less than two seconds later, a woman (the same one who had swerved to avoid the truck as it nearly hit her), had jumped out of her car, frantically screaming; waving her arms. I hit the brakes with full force, slid round the curve, narrowly missing a still-spinning piece of the little red Mazda's front end.
The big truck was tilted, smoking, almost on its nose. 'Smashed into a tree. Ten feet away, the Mazda was down the side of the gully, about fifteen feet from the road's surface, having landed on its tires.
When I looked at the Mazda, my blood ran cold, the hairs stood up on the back of my neck. I secretly thought: “how the hell could anyone live through this?” I - and the woman who had flagged me down - ran to both cars, she screaming: "he was on the wrong side of the road....he was across the center line!" We both called out to the little car, with no response. I yelled to some neighbors: "call 911!" I moved to the truck, where I could hear sounds. Steam, smoke and – I thought I saw fire – were coming from the engine compartment of the truck, so I quickly stumbled down into the brambled undergrowth to get to the passenger's side.
I helped first the passenger, then the driver get out of the smashed side window. They seemed dazed, but unhurt, scrambling up to the road's surface as the police, paramedics and firemen arrived. Brimming with anger, I walked up to two policemen, got their attention in private and said: "I smelled booze on both of those guys; you need to check them out for alcohol immediately." I saw the “hey-buddy-we-know-how-to-do-our-jobs” look. At that point, I didn't much give a damn what they thought.
The driver was taken away. (I secretly hoped to the nearby hospital for an immediate sample of his blood). The younger passenger stood beside me on the highway, as if in a fog. But as the reality of what had just happened slowly hit him, with face pale, he turned to me and asked: "do you think she'll be alright?" I turned to him with tear-filled eyes and told him I sure hoped so. I turned away; my tears were for her...and him. I didn’t want to tell him what I had heard one paramedic say as I was helping the driver and passenger get out of their truck.
They were using the 'Jaws of Life' to cut her from what was left of her little red car. I knew her chances were slim. This young passenger would have to live with this for the rest of his life. I was just too damned angry to feel much for the driver. Later, I realized that he too would cry for Katherine. He would be haunted forever.
In my mind, I kept hearing Don Henley's 1989 song, New York Minute, when he refers to the sound of the sirens: "some folks goin’ to emergency, somebody's goin' to jail".
Here's my obvious message: If you are going to drink or take drugs, do yourself and those around you a big favor. Don't drive. Take a cab. If you serve folks who are drinking - either in a bar/restaurant or at your own home - take their keys away.
The driver - who took innocent Katherine's life - should have a few years behind bars to contemplate his very stupid decision. He and his unobservant or uncaring passenger got in that truck after a lunch of booze. They will have the rest of their lives to dwell on that.
But Katherine won't.
I wrote this story for Katherine, a woman I never knew, never met, but in the days following this accident, I felt like someone had taken a friend of mine. I didn’t want her to die in vain, with not many knowing about her, or how her life was taken by an irresponsible, uncaring stranger.
It was only then that I heard the rest of the story; and why it’s so important to FohBoh readers. It seems these two were celebrating some business deal at a local restaurant. They had a long liquid lunch and were getting obviously inebriated when the restaurant owner cut them off and had to ask them to leave.
They did leave and began going south on the main road. They realized they had left their credit card on the restaurant table when they paid their guest check. Not thinking too well, or using a phone, they did an immediate u-turn and really put the pedal to the medal to get back to the restaurant before some thief got their card. It was this racing back to the restaurant, charging up the blind curve near the church, that caused Katharine to meet her fate.
People...if you operate a licensed establishment, please pay close attention to those who are drinking. Don’t let them get inebriated if possible. Cut them off... well in time. When they pay their check, ensure that they do get their credit card, have their hat and coat, and have absolutely no reason to hurry back to your outlet.
You can only imagine how the man and wife who own this restaurant may feel for the rest of their lives. They will always wonder... “If only we had......”
In deference to Katharine and her memory, if you want to help after reading this, please make a donation to your local chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving: http://www.madd.org/
©Copyright, Roy MacNaughton, 2008