Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Two days back in the day...

A car accident killed a person locally today. The news said that the authorities had yet to notify the family of the deceased. That brought back a couple of memories from my old EMS days.

The first was New Year's Day, a long time ago. The time was about twenty minutes after midnight. We got a run for a pedestrian struck by a car out on the highway just outside of town. we got there and found the body of an approximately 30-year old male lying on the pavement in a large pool of blood. The (sober) driver of the car hadn't even seen the man as he was apparently walking down the road in the dark. The damage to the front of the car was impressive, but the damage done to the pedestrian was beyond our ability to fix. I got on the radio to the hospital, spoke to the trauma surgeon, and declared him dead. The new year wasn't even half an hour old and already we had our first fatality.

But who was this guy? And what was he doing out here in the middle of nowhere? Well the ID in his wallet answered the first question but the second one remained a mystery until another car pulled up and a young woman got out. She was trying to get past the police barricade and I suspected that she might have something to do with this so I went over. The first thing she asked was if her husband was involved. I asked her his name, and she told me the name on the driver's license that I'd just taken from the deceased. Damn. I always hate this part.

After asking the Sheriff's deputy if I could borrow his car, I took her to his cruiser and had her sit down in the passenger seat. Then I told her. She didn't want to believe me--not that I blame her--and she wanted to see him. But he didn't look good and I didn't think that she should have that picture in her mind as her last memory of him. so I lied and said that he'd already been taken to the hospital. Fortunately she couldn't see the bright yellow tarp covering the body from where we were sitting.

As it turned out, the two of them had been at a New Years' party when they got into an argument over his drinking and decided to leave. The argument continued on the ride home, until finally she pulled over and he got out and said that he'd walk home. She took off and left him there, but before she got home, she'd cooled off a bit and came back to find him. It probably took her no more than fifteen to twenty minutes to turn around and come back, but by then he was already dead on the highway.

They'd been married not quite four months.

The other one took place on a Christmas morning, almost a year later and in nearly the same place. Shortly before sunrise, we got a call to a single-vehicle rollover accident and found a compact station wagon that had left the roadway and flipped over several times, partially ejecting and crushing the driver, a young male about 20 years old. He was dead too, but the thing that stood out was the fact that the interior of the car and the crash scene were strewn with gift-wrapped packages--obviously Christmas presents for a lot of people. Since the Sheriff's Dept. was short that night for the holiday, I agreed to go do the notification on this one too as a favor to the road sergeant. The kid's driver's license gave an address in town that was about fifteen minutes away so we went over there.

When we got to the house, all of the nearby street parking was already taken up with other cars. That was unusual for this neighborhood but I didn't think anything of as we walked up on the porch. I was preparing myself to reach out and ring that doorbell--probably the actual hardest part about doing these. Once they open that door, the die's cast and you roll with it, but until you touch that doorbell, everyone inside the house is still blissfully unaware and happy. That's going to change as soon as you touch that bell. And on Christmas too...

So I rang the bell. and lights started to come on. My partner--a rookie--looked at me like he was about to run back to the truck. I'd already told him to just be cool and professional, let me do the talking, and be ready to support people. This was his first notification.

The door opened and a teenage girl in pink pajamas opened it. She was blonde and had blue eyes. I still remember her. I asked if her parents were home. she ran off to get them, not really understanding why. We stood on the porch and waited.

A minute later, both parents came to the door in their nightclothes. I asked if we could come in and talk, and when they invited us in, I saw that there were several other people in the house, either sleeping or waking up due to the commotion. As it turned out, it was a big family get-together for the holiday. That's why there were so many cars outside. It wasn;t going to be just the immediate family here. There were aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and grandparents here too, and they was starting to funnel into the living room to see why we were here at 6AM. There was no way that this wasn't going to suck like few notifications had ever sucked before.

So I took the parents into the kitchen to talk. I told them why I'd come, and things went downhill from there, as expected. As we were able to piece together, their son was a student at a college several hundred miles away. They weren't expecting him back for the holiday due to the distance and some commitments that he had there, but apparently he'd decided to come at the last minute without telling them and had driven all night, probably hoping to surprise them with a car full of gifts. Gifts that were now scattered all over the interstate median or wedged up in a car undergoing a fatality investigation. He wasn't drunk, we found out later. We're guessing that he just dozed off and ran off the road. He'd almost made it home.

We walked out of the house totally drained. I try to never get emotionally involved with anyone, but on something like that you just can't help it. My Christmas was shot now too. I called my family up and told them that I had to stay over and wouldn't be there for dinner. Then I took half of another shift to make the lie not a lie. I knew that they were expecting me for Christmas, but I really didn't feel like it as I'd also seen the Christmas tree in that house and suspected that several of the gifts piled under it had his name on them.

I hoped they'd kept the receipts.


  1. Oh dear Lord this is absolutely the saddest thing I have ever read!

  2. Ouch! That's the thing I worry about most. Fortunately we don't do notifications. But still.....

  3. God, notifications can be rough. I had to stand by once while a guy got the word that his teenaged son had killed himself. Thank God I wasn't the one who had to do the talking; I don't think I could have gotten the words out.

  4. Oh my gosh...that 2nd story got to me. How heartwrenching!!