TheTimesTribune.com, Corbin, KY

March 7, 2013

It only takes a second or two to die


The Times-Tribune

CORBIN — I was driving earlier this week along U.S. 25W toward Williamsburg and dropped something in the floor.

I glanced in the mirrors to see what was behind me, took a second glance to see what was coming, then reached down for a couple seconds to grab the dropped item.

A grand total of five seconds elapsed.

When I sat up, I was straddling the double-yellow lines aiming for the ditch on the wrong side of the road.

Thankfully, I was on a straight part of the road and no one was coming — or I would have smacked head-on and likely killed someone.

I should know better.

I recently watched this horrific video on Facebook, which apparently was taken from a dashboard camera of a vehicle in Russia. I’m not sure what type of vehicle, whether private or law enforcement, but the impact remains the same.

On the video, which also included sound, you could see the road was a four-lane, with no median to separate the lanes. It was difficult to see as the roads were snowy and icy. You could hear the patrol car crunching along the roadway, and his windshield wipers occasionally swept across the screen.

Traffic appeared to be relatively light. In front of the vehicle was a delivery truck, an Explorer-looking vehicle, and a red Suzuki four-door. The Suzuki was in the passing lane, and the Explorer merged into the passing lane behind the Suzuki. Both vehicles appeared to be passing the delivery truck.

Things moved along for about 10 seconds, and the Suzuki returned to the regular lane in front of the truck.

Suddenly, the Explorer eases across the center of the road, just as I did the other day.

When the driver realized his error, he quickly — too quickly — tried to correct the situation.

The Explorer began to slide, and fishtailed into the delivery truck on the side.

The momentum of that crash sent both vehicles into the passing lane, where the delivery truck was able to regain control.

The Explorer was not as fortunate.

Out of control, you could see the inevitable scene that was coming.

But it still was a visual shock.

The Explorer went into the oncoming lanes of traffic — right into the pathway of a tractor-trailer.

The Explorer virtually exploded into thousands of pieces along the roadway. The tractor-trailer obliterated the vehicle and whomever was inside.

Even though I saw that video more than a month ago, I still think of the image when that Explorer that was turned to rubble.

Even so, I still should have learned that lesson a long time ago.

I guess I was about 20 or so, and I was driving to Wise, Va., from Erwin, Tenn. It’s about a three-hour drive or so. I had been in Erwin most of the day at a friend’s house, and had left my windows down the entire time.

When I left to go back to Wise, it was full dark.

I had gotten through the Tennessee cities of Johnson City, then Kingsport, then across the state line into Weber City and Gate City, Va.

As I left the city limits of Gate City, the roadway took a hard curve uphill into the darkness.

And then I heard a fluttering noise over the music from the stereo.

Before I could try to figure out what it was, something landed on my glasses — and then crawled onto my eye.

In sheer terror, I hollered, grabbed my glasses and threw them to the floorboard.

I had let go of the steering wheel, and ended up plummeting into the median. After bouncing and jostling along, the car stalled out.

I threw the door open, rapidly running my hands over my face and through my hair.

I have a small phobia about spiders, so I figured the King Kong of arachnids was crawling all over my glasses in the floorboard.

Cautiously, and with a shoe in hand, I went around the car to the passenger side and opened the door.

There, on the floor, rested my glasses — and sitting on one of the lenses was a creature in prayer.

It was a bright green praying mantis.

But even before that, I should have been wary about how easy it is to get distracted. I was driving very late one night, trying to get from Greenville, S.C. to Bristol, Va. to see a play my sister was in.

I thought I could make it, but I was incorrect in that assessment.

I was going along, and then I don’t know, and then I heard some kind of noise.

And that’s when I opened my eyes.

Sparks were flying along the passenger side of the car, and I wasn’t exactly on the roadway — I was riding along the guardrail, and only had maybe 50 or so feet left before it was gone.

I had fallen asleep at the wheel — and was only lucky I beat up the car.

Traveling to our various destinations by vehicle has become so commonplace — a daily event for most — I think most drivers often forget just what they’re doing.

But as I can attest to based on viewing the final moment of that Explorer — sometimes there’s no second chance.

Keep that in mind when you’re behind the wheel eating dinner, or texting, or changing music stations on the radio.

It only takes a second or two to die.

Reporter John Ross can be reached at jross@thetimestribune.com.