Monday, 2 March 2009

The Jogger

The car was obviously totaled, curled up upon the guard rail flipped over, smashed upon a tree. The rain had just started before midnight and it was apparent I was the first to arrive. I quickly dialed 911 from my phone as I pulled over, hazard lights on, being careful not to run over the parts of glass and debris on the on ramp to the Outer Loop of the Washington DC beltway. The scene was grim and I was all too aware of what I'd find when I looked in the wrecked car.

"Thank you for calling Prince George's 911 emergency line, please do not hang up as your call is important to us. All operators are assisting other people, please hold and your call will be answered in the order it was received." This was the greeting I got and very suddenly I realized how alone I was with this car and whoever was inside this wreck, how very alone I felt. While I walked over to the car hesitantly, I knew I was about to look into a world I was not comfortable with nor necessarily prepared for. There was no one else.

It was rather warm here for late February this evening. The smell of newly fallen rain on the asphalt conflicted with the very brutal smell of burned rubber and gasoline. A tire, still spinning, yet the car dead still. The scent of a beautiful Virginia Pine tree ripped in half by the car's engine torn from its guts. It seemed as time was not moving, still on hold, and the lonely feeling growing as the 911 hold message continued. It all seemed such a contradiction.

All the sudden one car, another motorist, drives by and I frantically try to flag them down. You could hear the car very purposely accelerate away from the accident, away from what they would see. Then another motorist, and another and another; 4 cars passing by, speeding up, not stopping no matter how frantic my arms flapping, no matter how obvious the wreck spilled onto the roadway like spilled milk on a table. They even made attempts to drive around the debris, around the accident and me, accelerating away. And I felt more alone.

Gingerly, I knelt down beside the car, removing a large branch blocking the small view inside the car, flipped upside down, twisted in a ball of metal, glass and pine. As I peered inside, the 911 operator answered finally. It felt like 3 hours, but I knew it was only a minute or two, time seemed to stop. I gave the operator the address of the wreck while I quickly noticed no person or persons were inside the vehicle! But where did they go?? Did they escape? I hung up after the operator said help was on the way, and I stood up and yet another motorist passed. I waved my arms, and this time I caught the drivers eye as he curiously gazed on, like a peeping tom, hiding inside the world of his car. And then he too sped away, and I felt alone.

I frantically looked around calling out into the woods, as if someone could hear me, as if my voice could see what I didn't want to see before my eyes. I saw no one and nothing around. I had no flashlight and the darkness of the night became all to obvious to me. A cop pulled up moments later as I must of looked like a man coming out of the wreck himself, confused, angry and alone. Then another cop then another.....and the loneliness began to fade. Perhaps, not the loneliness felt by the driver....who the cop pointed out to me, up in a pine tree, illuminated by his powerful flashlight....a person, twisted in a mangled heap of flesh, bone and tree....wrapped around another pine tree like a wet sock hanging loosely around a stair banister. Was this real? The added flashlights of the other cops quickly lighted the enormous spray of blood dripping from the trees, on the leaves and pine needles, pieces of this poor person everywhere.

The thing that stood out to me, the thing that I focused on was his tennis shoe, still on his leg, dangling precariously from a branch. Why a tennis shoe? It all seemed so...confusing and unreal. Why was he wearing a tennis shoe? Was he out jogging earlier? The thoughts that go through your mind when you pay attention can be somewhat amazing and disturbing.

The poor fellow, this night, walked through a door he did not mean to walk through, and had no way to get back to the place he never meant to leave. And I felt as if I was able to look through the door as if it was closing, and his tennis shoe was the last thing I saw. Then it hit me, the reason why the other motorist didn't want to stop or help....they didn't want to see that which they knew would be there, they didn't want to see through that if not being next to this body makes death somehow less real.

It is almost spring here, and oddly enough, the thought that this mans blood was going to feed the new growth in that patch of woods entered my mind. His life carried on through those new trees and bushes, through spring, he re-entered the whole....that door, which can open up at anytime, anyplace, that feeds the dead back to the living. I've learned to treasure this terrible moment, his death so horrible, so unexpected certainly sparked a renewed effort within me.

Somehow now, I don't feel so alone anymore.


  1. Gosh Kyle. That sounds like a very close encounter with death. Are you OK?

    You are not alone.

  2. Thanks Justin and Greenfrog, Yes I'm fine. I guess its just the odd chance that I was the first to drive up on the accident, or at least the first to stop.

    It confuses me why so many people are unwilling to help and to turn away when someone is in need of help.

  3. Wow. That is such a shocking scene to witness and I'm so proud of your for doing the right thing and stopping to see if help was needed.

    I realize that no one wants to see such things but I'm ashamed of those who drove past and didn't stop. Hopefully they will learn to be more involved in their lives and that of others.

    I'm sure that it underlined the frailty and impermanence of life. Your story helps remind me of these things and to live life to the fullest. As well as to always be ready to assist others. I hope you can process this whole thing without too much anguish.

    I send you peace, love and support. May those lost in the accident be reborn in a better life.

  4. Thank you for stopping. Thank you for taking the time to courageously see how his death will nourish other life. Peace to you and all beings.

  5. Been to more than a few of these... and yet I still have the same reaction.

    My last one was a four year old girl. She was left alone in a car. She got into the driver seat and put it in gear. She rolled down her steep driveway. We think she panicked, she jumped out of the vehicle. She jumped out at the "right" time for her head to get smooshed between a tree and the car door. When her head hit the ground the blood made a perfect outline of her head in the grass (you could see her nose, lips, and chin). I had to help the M.E. photograph her body at the ER. When I lifted one side of her body so the M.E. could get photos of her back I almost lost it, it was as if I was holding my own year old daughter. The only consolation (however selfish this sounds) is that I took comfort in that her death was instant. Out of getting spit on, cussed, and punched in the face, that day was the worst day on my job (I'm a cop) ever.