On Pacific Standard Time in December, it gets dark in our little seaside communities about 5:30. In off-season months, sidewalks are usually rolled up shortly after that. Outside of the bars, our “downtowns” are usually quiet till morning.
That’s how it was a few nights ago when a middle-aged transient, walking in our little business district, laid down in the middle of the southbound lane of Highway #101 - the main drag. He was wearing dark clothes. Street lighting at that location was not good. It was about 40 degrees at 9 o’clock. Rain and wind were the weather conditions.
It didn’t take long for the first car to come along. It hit the prone figure and rolled over him. Both wheels. The driver, who later said didn’t see anything given the conditions, pulled to the curb and stopped. He quickly got out of his car. But, within seconds, another vehicle came by, hitting the man again. Both wheels. He, too, stopped. He, too, hadn’t seen anything.
A cop got there within a couple of minutes. EMT’s as well. Nothing anyone could do.
The ensuing investigation found no fault in either driver. Both stopped immediately. Both remained at the scene to give what help they could. Cooperated in every way though obviously shaken. The body was removed. Onlookers eventually dispersed.
“O.K., folks. Move along. Move along. Nothing to see here.”
The deceased had no relatives. Anywhere. Local homeless folks interviewed provided the identity and said the dead man had been drinking but none saw him run over. Twice. The case remains open. For awhile. But not much more is expected to be added.
While there’s deserved sadness for the dead, my thoughts - and more than a few prayers - are with those two drivers whose lives will never be the same. I’m certain of that. I know because I watched my own father for many years.
During the depression, he drove professionally for a California commercial bus line. One dark, windy, rain-swept night, he was headed for Los Angeles with a full load of passengers. Driving on an unlit rural road.
Out of the corner of his eye, he thought he saw an image. Nothing identifiable. Quickly, he slammed on the brakes. The big bus slid forward as he fought to stay on the wet road. But, behind him, an 11-year-old boy lay on the highway along with his mangled bike. Died on the spot trying to get to a rural mailbox.
The ensuing investigation cleared my father. Passengers told authorities there was nothing he could have done. Conditions were bad. The child was in the wrong place. Dad reacted properly. It was “just an accident.” Just.
That was 1931. Dad passed away in 1990. He’d been a driving professional. But, in all those years, he never drove in the rain again. Not once. Mom, who was also an excellent driver, always took the wheel if it rained. Never another accident in the family.
But my father was psychologically scarred for life. An otherwise intelligent, strong, bright, hell-of-a-man could not find forgiveness, even with his deep and sturdy Presbyterian faith.
Now, in the aftermath of a local transient’s death - a death evidence shows couldn’t have been avoided given where he was and the conditions - my prayers are for the survivors.
The dead man’s gone. His worldly troubles are over. But the drivers. The two who “survived” the night. However long they live, neither will forget those terrible seconds. Those seconds when one - or both - killed another human being.
I don’t know if either - like Dad - will never drive in the rain again. I don’t know if they’ll be able to accept or rid themselves of the deep feelings of guilt and anger - even if it was determined the taking of another human’s life was purely an accident in which they had no "blame." But, being told you’re “innocent” in such a deadly experience doesn’t automatically wipe clean the minds of those involved. The survivors. Yeah. The “survivors.”
Our lives often are changed in a flash. A second or two. We’re jerked from our “realities” by a more urgent reality, forever altering everything that comes after.
So often, we concern ourselves with the dead. But, once in awhile, it’s the living for whom we should pray.