Driving home on the highway, a long trip in the dark with a cup of caffeine to keep me awake and Clannad on the speakers, I began to think about the speeds and the curves of the road.
It reminded me of my first (and only) DOA MVA as an active-duty firefighter, many years ago.
But first, as always, some history:
Long, long ago, in a small town of the Mid-Hudson Valley, my mother wanted to become a firefighter. In this town, the men fought fires and the women..did something, and called themselves the Auxiliary.
She wanted to fight fires, not bake or cook for Dad, but she knew it would be a tough thing to do, but Gram raised a smart woman, she did. About the same time Mom started thinking on joining, Dad was getting involved in the town political scene, rather experimentally. He decided to run for elected office, and ran for Town Supervisor (like a Mayor, only smaller). The first time out, he lost; the incumbent had been around for ages and was immensely popular. It's a two-year term though, so two years later -- older and wiser -- Dad was running again. This time around, the incumbent smelled doom; he lost and got the hell outta town before the damage was publicized. No matter; Dad's an economist and knew what to do, and he got it done.
Back to Mom: with Dad elected, she put in her application to the Fire Department. They laughingly declined to accept her, pointing to their bylaws which said "men". Dad then popped up and told them since they were in violation of Federal law, the town couldn't release their budget. The Fire Department was mainly subsidized by the town, with supplemental monies raised in their yearly fund-raisers. This made them rethink their approach, albeit not without much groaning and moaning about "gurls" and scared noises about their stag nights and such-like. Still. She was accepted as an active-duty fire-fighter, told to report for OSHA-mandated training, and away she went. One of the Auxiliary women also went, but she never actually fought fires after finishing the training. Mom never tried to disrupt the Boys' Nights Out, and they stopped worrying about gurls in the clubhouse, and one of the most vocal anti-gurl guys actually apologized later.
So, a few years later, maybe 4 or 5 years, I was old enough to join and I did. Went through the same 13-week course, the only woman in the class as usual. Did the same fun things and -- unlike Dad (who is also a fire-fighter) -- did not get my eyebrows and eyelashes singed off in the propane fire exercise.
So, here we are, at the beginning of the story now. Our town is small, with the occasional house fire, brush fire, and lots of motor vehicle accidents (MVA). I know the terminology has changed since then, as this was twenty years ago, but essentially we're talking car crashes.
There's a major highway running north/south through the county, and part of it passes through my town. A hilly and twisty part, with at-grade crossings, so you might imagine that we have a fair number of MVAs, and you'd be right.
This wasn't one of those.
We were called out to the parkway, southbound side. I parked my car on the northbound side and crossed the median barrier. It was a slight curve before the hillside, and there's lots of trees along the sides of the road. A car was resting off the road, at right angles to the road; its front end was accordion-shaped. Two young men were sitting in the front seats; one white and one brown. Both were dressed nicely, for a Friday night in someplace south of town (either the next county or even NYC). Neither of them had a mark on him, not from outside the car. Both were clearly dead.
Another car was pulled over along the side of the road, with three very badly shaken people in it. They'd seen the accident, as the dead men had passed them going very fast, and then failed to notice the very slight curve. The car had gone directly into a tree and bounced off. I took a good look at the tree; it had hardly any marks on it, but it did have a few scratches in the bark at about bumper/hood level. THe car, as I mentioned, was much shorter than it had originally been.
The fire-fighters were very quiet. Normally, we're all busy with life-saving activities, but we had nothing to do. One or two guys held a two-inch line, just in case something burst into flames, and all the rest of us waited for the coroner.
The driver was pulled out. Nothing remarkable about him. His passenger was pulled out, and you could see that the collapse of the engine into the cabin had crushed and cut his foot at the ankle. Other than that, nothing else was damaged. Everything that had been unrestrained within the car was flung into the front of the cabin.
They were bagged and taken off to the morgue. The car got loaded onto the State Police tow truck. We all went home.
I imagine they'd been talking and laughing, possibly about their plans for the night, and just didn't see the curve. At 90+ miles per hour, you don't have much time to look away from the road, and it took just that much time to drift off the road and hit the tree. Death was instantaneous.
Nowadays, they talk about the multiple collisons that occur: the car against an obstacle --> the body against the restraints/car --> the organs within the body against the outer body. When the heart or brain slams against the sternum or skull, it isn't going to be good. If death isn't instant, it's nearly always inevitable.
I can still see them, sitting in their seats, slumped over as if resting. One head hanging forward, the other head resting back. No blood. The driver was pale and waxy, which was my first clue that he was dead. Their bodies had that boneless posture that no living body holds. Their hands were resting in their laps.
It's been twenty years this month since I saw them. I don't think I'll ever forget it. It's one reason that I keep my eyes on the road, and pay attention to the curves and hills.