Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Hitting Too Close to Home

The Google Map screen capture at left is an aerial view of the area where I live. (Road numbers and names have been obscured to preserve privacy.) The curvy white line running vertically down the center of the map is the road that runs right in front of my house. It was only last Friday that I wrote these words about that same stretch of pavement: "I was not about to stop like a sitting duck on that narrow, two-lane, curvy, high-speed road."

I didn't mention that the road has no shoulders except in a few spots, that in most places along its length the edges drop off into deep ditches. Nor did I mention that most of the land on the western side of the road is swampy and tree covered, that this route is a lovely, scenic drive until peak traffic times turn it into a literal hell on wheels.

Many commuters traveling to and from Baton Rouge avoid the main highways and use this rural road as a shortcut. Bumper to bumper, they exceed the speed limit, which, at 55-miles-per-hour, is already too high. They ignore the no-passing stripes in the center of the road. They're thinking about getting to work or getting home, they're fiddling with their radios, they're using their cell phones ("Do you want me to pick up something for dinner?"), and they're not paying attention. Some of them are drinking. More than once a beer bottle has landed in our front yard, having been tossed out the window of a passing pickup truck.

See the red spot on the green map above? At right is a closer view (obviously taken in winter) of that same spot. The dark slash you see crossing under the road is a bayou. The light tan areas that appear to be wide shoulders alongside the road are actually the deep slopes of embankments.

My daughter got off work early yesterday afternoon, passed this particular spot on her way home, and noticed some children fishing in the bayou at the bottom of the embankment. As soon as she arrived home, she picked me up and drove me to retrieve my car from the tire shop. She came home from there the same way she had come from work a short while earlier. (I came by a different route.) When she approached this bayou overpass again, she found traffic at a standstill. She could see that an SUV had driven off the road and into the bayou, and she saw someone giving CPR to a child. No emergency vehicles had arrived at the scene yet. Because of heavy traffic conditions, it would be a while before they did.

Later, at home, we could hear sirens passing our house for what seemed like an hour. Finally, we read on the internet, state police closed our road in both directions. Still later, on a televised newscast, we learned that the SUV, driven by an apparently unimpaired middle-aged woman, had run off the road and plowed into two children, their father and two of his friends, all of whom had been fishing peacefully a moment earlier. Both children died at the scene of the accident. The three men were transported to the hospital with injuries that turned out not to be severe. The driver, her seatbelt secured, her vehicle stopped by a tree from sinking into the bayou, suffered only minor injuries.

What a tragedy! Our community mourns this morning with the families involved in this terrible, surely preventable occurrence. What are the odds of someone losing control of a vehicle in the one spot on a five-mile stretch of road where people stood unprotected and unaware in her aberrant path? A broad combination of factors contributed to this accident;  a change in any one of them might have prevented it.

Reducing the speed limit on this road would be one good place to start.


  1. This post made me so sad. I've been that child on the side of the road... and the adult with the children. So so sad...

    1. Holly, in either of those scenarios were you aware of the danger you were in?

  2. This is so sad from so many perspectives. The parents of the children will never be the same and the poor driver will live the moment of the accident over and over again as she is forced to deal with her guilt. It's one of those events that make it difficult not to sink down deep into the tragedy of life.

    1. Every time I think about these parents and this terrible detour that's been thrown into their life's journey, I think of you, so far ahead of them on that same path but still walking it, one step at a time. It's probably too early, but I wish they could read your story. They'll need to do what you've done: put one foot in front of the other until someday they begin to notice that a drastically altered life is still a life worth living. I'm glad you found your way to a place where sunshine and laughter--not to mention two precious, funny dogs--can make you smile again.


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