Saturday, July 3, 2010

Awake In the Middle of the Night

Do you ever have the feeling when you see activity or goings on somewhere that something really bad has happened whether you actually saw the event or not? I get - for lack of a better term - a feeling in my bones that at some point before I happened along something truly awful has occurred.

I had that feeling yesterday morning driving to the office. As I made my way north on Route 287 - at or near Exit 21 (where folks can get off of 287 to head either west or east on Route 78), cruising along at a speed that paid lip service to the posted speed limit, a marked police cruiser galloped past me in the left lane. My attention was captured not by the pace at which the officer was driving, which was significant, but by the fact that the officer was not a New Jersey State Trooper, which is the agency principally responsible for patrolling Route 287, but was instead a member of a local department. In the dozen-plus years or so that I have been migrating north in the morning, six days a week (more often than not), on Route 287, I have seen local police patrolling the roadway so infrequently that I think I can remember every such instance. It was a jarring enough sight to me that it got my immediate attention.

Less than five minutes later I saw what it was that had elicited such a rapid response from the officer who had sped past me. There were emergency vehicles - both State Police and local cops (including what appeared to be the cruiser that had passed me) as well as fire engines and ambulances crowded on and near the exit ramp at Exit 22A. It is not often that one sees people walking around on a highway exit ramp. This is particularly so when it is slightly after 4:00 a.m. When the pedestrians in question are all wearing firefighter gear and are slowly trudging into the woods adjacent to the exit ramp, it is all the more unusual.

As I drove past that area yesterday morning, I felt that inescapable feeling in my bones that something very, very bad had happened. One might think - given that I earn my living defending those whose negligence (automotive-related and otherwise) is the alleged cause of another's injuries - that I would have a level of tolerance or immunity to such a sight. Not so. It is one thing to look over the record of what occurred on a particular date and time in black and white some time after the fact. It is quite another to see either the event itself as it unfolds or its immediate aftermath.

Yesterday morning, after returning to my office from a meeting with a client I learned the unfortunate accuracy of what my gut had been telling me hours earlier. In the wee small hours of the morning - for reasons unknown and for present purposes not of particular importance - one vehicle with three people in it lost control while on the exit ramp, which caused it to leave the ramp and enter the woods. In the process of doing so, it apparently overturned and ejected its occupants. None of the three people in the car - all adults - was wearing a seat belt. Two of the three were killed. According to a newspaper account I read on-line yesterday afternoon each of the people who died was less than twenty-five years old. The information that the State Police released yesterday suggested that the two folks who were killed in the crash were first ejected from the vehicle and thereafter had the vehicle from which they had been ejected either roll over or land on top of them. Truly horrific stuff.

To reach a certain age in life one must pass through the era of invincibility. It is that time in your life when your combination of age and attitude is such that you believe you are bulletproof. Caution be damned. You are indestructible. It is a fallacy of course. None of us is indestructible. Thankfully most of us make it through that phase to the other side where we understand and appreciate fully the sometimes harsh consequences of our actions. Not all of us do.

Barring some disclosure regarding a heretofore undisclosed mechanical issue with the BMW these three young people were riding in, it appears as if human behavior was the principal cause of this tragedy. A terrible way for these three and their families to kick off the long 4th of July weekend.

Sometimes I sit up in the darkness
And I watch my baby as she sleeps
Then I climb in bed and I hold her tight
I just lay there awake in the middle of the night
Thinking 'bout the wreck on the highway.

-AK

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