This post is not for the faint of heart. Last night I witnessed a single moment in time that changed several lives, and not for the better.
My wife and I had left the house to run a few errands and pick up a fast food dinner for ourselves and two of our boys. On a mid-December evening the sun had already set about a half hour earlier. It was past dusk and leaning into darkness. I was driving, and my car, that likely is smarter than I am, had automatically chosen to illuminate the headlights. I turned onto to the busy road into the center of town. It was rush hour and commuters were rushing on their way home.
About a mile later, I was getting into where the middle of town starts. It was a five lane road lined, as these roads in the suburbs often are, by car dealerships. About 50 yards ahead I saw a darkly dressed figure quickly cross a lane, briskly stepping between two cars, as if he was playing a real life version of the old Frogger video game. Just as he stepped from the busy traffic lane into the empty middle lane he was clipped by the car two vehicles ahead of me and his body was briefly and tragically airborne before quickly succumbing to gravity. I was in disbelief. I wasn’t sure I had seen what I had just seen. Actually I knew what I had just seen but I didn’t want to believe it. I didn’t want it to be true.
The car that hit the pedestrian and the one behind it seemed to continue ahead. What looked like a long pile of dark clothes laid out in the middle lane, and looked too impossibly still and too small to be a person. But as I got close, I knew it was. I stopped my car, hit the blinkers and my wife called 911. I was the first person to the man on the ground. He was an older man with white hair. He was still. Very still. His eyes were closed. I leaned down and put my hand on his shoulder and said, “Stay with us buddy.” A woman from another car ran up and informed me that she was a nurse. She asked and I told her that my wife was calling for emergency assistance. She checked the man’s pulse on his neck and informed me that he still had a pulse. There was a swelling bruise and bleeding near his temple. He remained unresponsive as we both just knelt near him. I kept my hand on his shoulder and again asked him to stay with us. I checked his pulse on his wrist myself. I know it wasn’t necessary, but I just wanted to know that he was still alive and there was hope. A cold winter wind whipped around us as we waited helplessly.
A man ran up with a large bag and informed us that he was a fireman. He took charge of the medical intervention. A young man wearing a coat with the logo of a nearby business ran up. He asked if the man was ok. He said he didn’t see him. He only heard a thump on his car. As we waited for emergency responders, the young man became more distraught. The fireman moved the unconscious mans head to the side a little and a large crimson puddle began to form and spread. Although it was maybe only 5-10 minutes before emergency responders arrived, it seem interminable. I’ve never been present when anyone died and I didn’t want to be there to watch this man’s life ebb away. With the police and paramedics taking over the scene, my wife and I returned to our car and drove off to complete our errands and get dinner.
Although we left to continue on with our ordinary errands, we were both shook up. Our first stop was to a craft store so my wife could pick up some “stuff” for cake decorating. As we got to the register to check out, our cashier, hearing the police sirens, held up his hands and joked, “Hey, it wasn’t me. I was here the whole time!” We informed him that the sirens were due to a pedestrian struck accident in front of one of the car dealerships. His joking smile immediately went flat. He said, “Which car dealer? My dad works over there.” We told him. It had occurred in front of the place his father worked. He finished checking us out and went to the next customer. I wanted to say to him, “Call your dad. Call him now,” but I didn’t. We walked out completely spooked. What in the world were the chances that we had gone from the side of that man in the road to his son in a store just down the road? We’ll never know.
As of now, I don’t know if the man survived. I read a mention on social media that he hadn’t, but it wasn’t from an authoritative source. In a split second that he never imagined on an ordinary Thursday night his life may be lost. I saw the man before he was hit. I don’t know how the driver that hit him didn’t. Maybe he glanced down at a text on his phone, or changed the radio station, or maybe just blinked, and his life is forever changed. If the craft store cashier was the son of the man that was struck, his life changed in that instance too. My life changed too. I appreciate how quickly a split second can change the world and how powerful a motor vehicle can be. My life changed because from now on I will always ignore my cell phone when I am driving. Be grateful for every second you have because you never know what the next second may hold.
Phil, this is such a sad story … for this man, his family, the poor driver who struck him, and everyone who was witness, including you.
Unfortunately this scene plays out over and over again. As you said, split second decisions that forever change lives. In one day this week in Toronto, 22 people were hit by cars – 12 in just one hour.
This will be with you for a long time. Be well, my friend.
Thank you Joanne. Wow! 12 in an hour in Toronto?!!? That’s incredible!
Scary sad, isn’t it? It had started raining – both pedestrians and drivers were in a hurry. That’s a bad combination.
Unfortunately pedestrians don’t realize that in the dark they often cannot be seen until it’s too late.
The one thing my husband constantly drilled in our sons was that as a pedestrian or cyclist, they have to assume responsibility for their own safety around cars. Even if you’re in the right, if you are hit by a car, you WILL lose and dead is still dead.
I’m so sorry Phil for you and everyone involved. In those sorts of situations I always look at the kind people like you who immediately ran over to help too. Despite a horrible tragedy, it restores my faith in humanity a little. I hope you’re ok…
I’m fine, but sad for the man hit, his family, and the poor young guy that hit him. My perspective was changed for the better, but for the others, the rest of their lives won’t be the same.
Absolutely – I can’t imagine how they must be feeling…
A tragic story Phil. Sending up a prayer for the man and his family and while I’m at it one for you, too that the memory will be lees painful and keen with time. xo
Bless you and your wife for stopping. So many others don’t want ‘to get involved’. While this will, most likely, stay with you a long time, take comfort in knowing you did what you could to help. I hope the gentleman made it through this ordeal ☹️
I’m so sorry you and your wife had to witness this.
I’m not thrilled that I witnessed it, but I’m thankful I saw it and can learn. I feel awful for the people involved.
Ah, Phil, you good Samaritan. I’m sorry this happened, but I’m glad you were there to help so quickly. Interesting how our perspective can change when we see something like this.
It’s a helpless feeling knowing you’ve done all you could do and that it still may not be enough to prevent the worst from happening.
We forget so easily how precious and fragile life really is – one moment of inattention and….
Hopefully the report you saw on FB is wrong. Fingers crossed for all involved.
So sorry you and your wife had to witness all this. Thank God,you and other Good Samaritans were near and ready to help. Unfortunately, it only takes one second to effect and change lives.
bloody hell, Phil. That’s awful all round. I hope it wasn’t a cell phone issue; it’s become big news here, so much so they are changing the law so if you kill someone in a car while distracted by your phone you can get life. Not sure if that will change anything but still. We still see too many people on phones. Best of luck to you and hopefully you;ll have a less dramatic weekend.
Thanks. It was definitely very sad and thought provoking. I’ve been thinking about it all day.
What a story. I still don’t understand why people don’t pay more attention behind the wheel. It is almost like they don’t know how serious an accident can be. Thanks for sharing and the reminder to keep our eyes on the road.
A tragic situation for all involved. There are no words that seem right in a case like this but I hope that, as unlikely as it seemed, the outcome was not the worst case scenario. Positive thoughts and hugs to all.
Thanks Haylee. Sadly, it did end as I feared it would.
Mercy. I’m feeling so sad about all those people, including you and your wife. It is important to wear reflective clothing and to not play Frogger, and it’s crucial to look out while driving. What a sad story. I hope you’ll let us know what became of him if you find out.
Sadly, I found out today that he didn’t make it.
That is sad.
So sad. So many powerful messages embedded in this post. Thanks for sharing Phil.
Tragic. I’m not sure how I’d react if I was first on a scene like that
Thanks for a strong reflection. Excellent essay.