So what you're looking at here (click on it for the full size image) is the remains of my 1985 Ford Escort after burying it under a tractor-trailer on my way to work one morning. The car was exactly —to the day, one-year old. Me, I was just 3 days shy of my 22nd birthday. And here's the story of how I nearly didn't make it there…
I was still living in Gurnee, IL (map) at the time and on my usual way to work in Mundelein, IL one morning at about 6:30am. It was a typical day, nothing out of the ordinary other that some light misty rain. I left my apartment on Finch Ct., made my way south down Oplaine Road and turned onto Washington Street. I drove about a 1/2 mile or so when I notice a slow moving truck in the right-hand lane. I moved over to the left lane as I crossed the Des Plaines River and began to rapidly approach the truck, a flatbed tractor-trailer that was rolling along at a very slow speed. Just as I began to go past on his left I noticed there was a second truck right in front of him. I noticed his left turn signal was on and I could not see the right rear of the trailer. This didn't strike me as odd as we are now only about a 1/10 of a mile from the intersection at Rt. 21. My immediate though was that they needed to get over to turn left at the intersection. That's reasonable, because that's where I'm headed also. But unfortunately for me, and much to my dismay, the first truck began to make a U-turn from the right-hand lane, across this four lane road.
If you view this map, where you see the widest point of the arc of the bike path to the north, just west of the river, there used to be a driveway that lead to a house a bit back off the road. Directly opposite from there was an opening in the guardrail of what was then a 4 lane divide road (now 6 lanes at this point). The two plazas at the intersection (Rt. 21) to the west also did not exist at that time as this area has experienced explosive growth over the past 15 years. So, the first truck began to make a U-turn through that opening and right in front of me. I was traveling at about 45mph and had nowhere to go. I hit my breaks, but with the wet pavement —and a panicking driver, I slid…right under the front portion of the trailer, between the truck's tandem axles and the trailer support legs. I don't ever recall feeling that I saw much, but I do remember the vivid sounds as my car crumbled around me. It was as if it were in slow motion as the sounds of metal and glass disintegrating. At the end of this rather abrupt stop, I bumped my head on the roof of my car which was now largely folded into the passenger seat. The trailer was at about a 45° angle to my right and sheered the roof off my car up to about 8 from my head. Being at an angle is likely what saved me from being instantly decapitated and/or my torso from being crushed. That and the fact that I was not going any faster (Shockingly, I was not speeding.) and managed to slow down some before the impact.
So here I sit —in hindsight clearly in shock, with a minor bump on my head and a small cut on my left ring finger. Beyond that I was still intact. I recall the two truck drivers who were likely somewhat shocked by all of this also, coming to check on me and the telling them "I'm OK". The police arrived and I explained things pretty much as above. I told them that he should be cited for failure to yield, improper lane usage or something. The officer would not and did not ticket them! "I feel I'd have to cite you for driving too fast for conditions if were to write them up." WHAT? Afterall, I was driving along minding my own business when this guy makes a U-turn across a four-lane highway FROM THE RIGHT LANE! How the hell is that my fault? If he hadn't turned in front of me it wouldn't have mattered if I were going 100mph. Being young, stupid and somewhat bewildered by the whole thing I didn't continue to press my point with the officer who was clearly having none of it. In hindsight and after speaking to my lawyer, I learned that I should have told him to go ahead and ticket me as well as him. I could have then fought and likely won when I went to court. So there's an important learning point for you should you ever find yourself in a similarly dubious situation. So now things are being cleaned up and they loaded my clearly totaled car onto a flat-bed truck. He was headed back my direction so he gave me a ride back to my apartment. It would be a couple hours later before my lower back began to bother me and I trodded off to the doctor. These lower back problems would persist for the next decade before I rededicated myself to my lifelong love of cycling. Since doing that until just this past year I've no problems. It is only in the past year —now more than 20 years later, that I've begun to have issues with it on occasion.
I was on pretty good legal ground with my position in this accident and I had begun to pursue it. But unfortunately six-months after this accident I was in another accident. That one was my fault as I was hit broadside while crossing a 4-lane highway. It was late afternoon and with the sun in my eyes I didn't see the other car. This moment of poor judgment unfortunately gutted my legal case in the first accident. I ended up settling out of court in 1989 for my expenses to that point shortly after I moved to New York.
The above photo was taken several hours after the accident. I took several, but it's the only one I have anymore. It was pinned up in my toolbox at work for a number of years until I switched jobs and moved to New York. The "you can get away with this —sometimes" quote at the top was snipped from a company newsletter at some point and taped to the picture. Needless to to say it's really how I felt. All in all, it could have been far worse. As in, never made it to my 22nd birthday and never having the life experiences I've lived since then. It made me very leary driving near large trucks and I still prefer to keep my distance. And as much as this was an eye-opener that made me more cautious, it wasn't until the second accident —the first and only that was my fault, that it really transformed my driving. And although many would consider me a fast driver, I'm a very safe driver.
The two trucks that will forever live in infamy were from Brazos Trucking in Texas. I can't find them online, so I can only hope they have since gone out of business. But in case they haven't, maybe the search engines will pick this entry an in particular "Brazos Trucking SUCKS". :) As it turned out they were on their way to Johns-Manville perhaps to pick up some of their fine asbestos laden products and were heading the wrong direction. They were making the U-turn to head back east where J-M are located. You can likely learn more about John-Mansville from their Wikipedia entry than you will from the company website. December 16, 2007 @ 09:37 am | Category: Brainwork