Innocent Victims

Ron Karpinski  2000


There is, perhaps, no more senseless way to die than in a traffic accident.  All car crashes are in one way or other avoidable.  Human error is most always at fault, and innocent victims are more often than not the ones who die.

Late one night in the summer of 1971, I waited for a traffic light at a major intersection in Anaheim, California.  A Mustang approached from the opposite direction.  The driver, a dark-haired man about twenty-five wearing a blue chambray shirt, looked both ways and pulled out, turning right on a red light.

From the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of a large object approaching the intersection from the left.  A 1959 Ford station wagon drifted from the middle westbound lane, through a left-only turn lane, and across both lanes of oncoming traffic.  It hit the Mustang, almost head-on, striking it on the left-front fender.

The impact spun the Mustang a full 180 degrees.  The driver of the Mustang, that clean-cut young man in the blue chambray shirt, was hurled through the windshield.  He bounced three times on the hood of his own car - dead.

Meanwhile, the Ford station wagon careened off the Mustang and bounced on its nose into the middle of the intersection; it teetered there, no more than fifteen feet in front of me.  If it had fallen to the right, I would have been crushed.

My right hand rested on the gear shift lever of my new Fiat 124 Spyder sports car.  Frantic commands from my brain ordered my hand to put the car into reverse and hit the gas pedal; but my hand would not budge.  I sat there, mesmerized by that long station wagon balanced precariously on its nose, rocking back and forth.

Finally, the station wagon fell forward onto its roof, sparing me.  Glass shattered and metal groaned, as the car settled.  From deep within, a weak male voice moaned.

People rushed from the restaurant to help the injured.  A policeman who happened to be filling his car at a gas station across the street took charge of the scene.  Witnesses lined up to offer accounts of what they had seen.

A neighbor lady worked as a nurse at the hospital where the injured were taken.  She later confided that the young man in the blue shirt had been married, and his young wife, called to identify his body, had to be admitted to the hospital herself for shock.  The driver of the station wagon, high on drugs, suffered only cuts and bruises.

The sound of that collision haunts me still.  It flashes up now and then, at the oddest of times.  Years later, I still think of that young man in the blue chambray shirt, and his wife, and I wonder about the life they might have had together.


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