The American Automobile
An Accident to Remember
When I saw the car in front of us swerve and fly across the center divide I knew immediately the outcome would be ominous. The accident happened right off Mission Boulevard in Mission Beach last spring, and my friend and I were the unfortunate witnesses of the tragic event. It was a nice, sunny day and my buddy and I were driving back to school for our afternoon classes with music playing and the windows down. I heard the sharp shriek of a breaking car, a sound I had heard before and knew was followed by the horrible crunch of a collision. There was a pause…where things seemed to go silent and I attentively listened. But as we turned the bend in the road I saw two cars collide head on followed by a massive explosion of sound and aluminum shrapnel. I had a sinking feeling as I saw the fronts of the cars in slow motion push against each other and the back tires of the cars rise up in the air and then fall back to the ground. From there on out everything seemed to be a blur.
We pulled our car over and were the first people to run over to the accident. Adrenaline and fear kicked into my body; half of me knew I needed to help in anyway I could and half of me was so scared by the scene I saw. As I got to one of the cars, I clearly remember the engine still on sputtering with smoke coming out of it, fluid leaking onto the ground, and a man with blood all over his face having a seizure. I didn’t know what to do, so I put my hand inside the car and turned it off while in complete shock and fear of the driver convulsing. I opened the door of the car and my friend and I just looked at each other not knowing whether or not to leave him in his seat in case he had serious broken bones or move him out of the car. As my friend stood next to the man, I looked around to the other car as the other drive stumbled out of his car onto the grass next to the road. Flames on the ground caught my eye from what must have been gasoline on the ground and the immediate image of cars exploding in action movies I have seen engrossed my mind. I told my friend that we needed to get both drivers out of the cars and far away from the accident because one of the engines was about to catch on fire. By that time, the man who was having a seizure had gone unconscious and we together moved what we thought for sure was a dead body out onto the grass about 100 feet away.
I specifically remember looking around at that point and noticing that almost 15 people had circled around the accident, only one lady was attending to the other driver, everyone else was watching, unwilling or too afraid to get involved in the situation. I made the assumption that at least one of these bystanders had called the police at this point in time and took off sprinting to a Chinese restaurant 100 yards away where I grabbed a fire extinguisher and ran back. By the time I got back to the car that originally had flames under it, the fire had spread to the engine and the whole front of the car was smoking. I used the entire extinguisher to put the flames out in the engine and for a moment, I thought I had extinguished it. But within seconds, the flames caught back up. I had no idea that the metal of car could catch on fire so quick, but within three minutes the entire car was in flames as the interior burst into flames and the metal structuring blackened. Luckily, I found out that day that cars don’t explode but rather burn slowly, at least until the flame reached the gasoline tank in which there was a rather violent, but not deadly explosion.
The first officers on the scene were the Mission Beach lifeguards who began attending to the unconscious man, but did not have the appropriate supplies to do much. The next thing that happened I did not understand until I realized what the driver was going through several days later. The man who was unconscious came to and immediately became extremely frightened as he was in very bad shape and there was a great deal of blood everywhere. He could not talk but progressed to forcefully stand up despite us trying to keep him down and tried to escape or run away. It took my friend and I, along with two lifeguards, to hold him down on the grass as we reminded him he would be ok and to stop resisting. He was literally going into panic mode trying to bite us and escape in any way. It took nearly 15 minutes for the police to show up, which made the man even more frightened. The police were forced to put the man in a neck brace and tie him down to a stretcher. I later found out that he was most likely on some sort of drugs and had a seizure while he was driving causing him to swerve into oncoming traffic. Most likely, the last thing he remembered was he was driving normally down Mission Boulevard and the next thing is he woke up to was a horrible car accident, which would explain his adrenaline, confusion, and fear.
I learned many things about myself that day. Firstly, I am glad that I am not one of the ten to fifteen people that will stand around and watch a tragic situation like that and refuse to get involved. I also learned that I might have saved someone’s life that day and I that cars do not explode like in the movies but do burst into flames and burn completely. It was a once in a lifetime experience…and I hope to God it stays at ‘once’.