Driving down 694, I was headed to Cambridge to celebrate my brother’s birthday with my family. Nothing could have prepared me for the tragic scare I was about to experience…
Rewind: I had been traveling home from Pittsburgh since 2:30am, running on 3 hours of sleep. I had also been locked out of my apartment when my flight arrived at 8am. By the time I hit the road, I was already feeling a bit dazed. I was nearing my exit when all of a sudden, a little black car in front of me flew at 70 miles per hour off the highway and deep into the ditch, flipping over and over and over and over again. All I could think as I whipped over to the side of the road was, “I am watching people die right now. I can’t believe I’m watching people die.”
When it finally stopped flipping, it was upside down. Running as fast as my body could carry me down the steep grade, through the mud, grass and shattered glass and metal I, with another man, were the first to the vehicle. I could see nothing from the driver’s side except an arm. CALL 911 I shouted to a girl who was running down the hill.
The car was crushed so low that it was impossible to access it or see inside. Something inside of me said, “This person’s not alone.” I ran to the other side of the car and pressed my face up against the back window only to see two screaming children (one baby) hanging upside down, completely trapped. “There’s babies in the back!” I yelled to the other first responder on the other side of the vehicle.
I was so scared that I was about to watch these people die. We could not get to them and I felt like if we didn’t act fast, the car might blow up and the memory of those screaming babies would haunt me forever. We busted into the only access point possible: the rear door on the driver’s side. From there, we saw a woman, white as a ghost, twitching and staring at us. The men found a way to pull her out and carry her a distance away. When she was out, I saw part of a man’s body, also white as a ghost, with his face covered in blood. He was trapped and we could not reach him.
We started working on the baby girl. We freed her and carried her to her mom. The little 4-year old boy was difficult to reach, but soon he was in my arms, squeezing me almost as tightly as I was squeezing him. I sat holding him so tightly in the wet grass, surrounded by pieces of their car, shattered glass, and covered in dirt and mud for the next hour. He just sat there, nestled close to me – a feeling I will never forget.
The mom had MS – we found her cane a ways away. She was in shock and said she was seeing double. Soon thereafter, the men somehow had managed to pull out the father with a bloody head wound. The medics arrived and worked on the mom and dad in the ambulance for that hour while I just held that little boy in a heap in the ditch. When the medics came to take him, he looked at me with fear…I told him he was so lucky to get to ride in an ambulance and I squeezed him tight as we walked up to the door.
There his mom and dad were in neck braces, bandaging, blood and more, still very much in shock from what had just happened. It was a heartbreaking experience and one I will remember for a lifetime.
Climbing back in my car, my dirty hands shook as they clutched the wheel. I looked again at their car as I drove away, amazed that 4 living breathing lives were pulled from that wreck. They should all be okay. And the cause? …a mattress and boxspring that had fallen off someone’s vehicle, abandoned in the middle of the highway. They had swerved to miss it, as had many other’s around us, yet they were the only unfortunate ones to lose control.
Driving home, I felt a deep sense of comraderie wash over me. I have no idea what the names were of the other men and women who assisted in extracting that family from their car. None of us had time to chat, exchange numbers, ask names, make a gameplan, or strategize. It had been as if we had become one unit, one person making phone calls, one person holding a baby, another person holding the car seat in place while another unbolted it from it’s hanging position. Still another calmed people down, others gave information to officials, and others gathered strewn belongings. Just as fast as they appeared, they were also gone. Although I will never get the chance to meet them, it was an honor to be amongst these heroes.