So I headed home after a totally relaxing and enjoyable 3+ hours. I was chuckling over all of the stories that she told me about Bridget and Poet, the other two members of The Sniper's coven (yes ladies, I know everything now...and so does Lagniappe.) and I almost didn't see something faintly flickering down in the ditch next to the road as I drove up the two-lane highway in the rain and fog. But I had seen something, so I stopped and turned around to go back and find out what.
Damn. There was a pickup truck down in the ditch on it's side, it's cab in the middle of a grove of trees. And the flickering was coming from a few small flame spots on the underside of the engine compartment. Not good. Not good at all.
I got my fire extinguisher out of my vehicle as I dialed 911 and called it in as I ran around the front of the truck and emptied it on the visible flames. It seemed to knock the fire out so I went around the other side to try to get to the cab, but owing to the terrain and the tree trunks, which were now splayed out around the cab like an abatis, I couldn't to the driver. I could see him in there though. The cab was mangled and compressed around the driver's side and one tree trunk was right through the left side of the cab where the driver was. As a former firefighter/paramedic and police officer, it was obvious to me that his was going to be one hell of a complex extrication that would require a lot of equipment, manpower and time. I alternated between giving the 911 center information and calling out to the driver to tell him that help was on the way. I don't know if he heard me, but if there was a chance, I wanted him to know.
Then I heard the familiar WHOOMP! sound of the puddled gasoline under the wreck flaring up and the orange glow was everywhere. With no tools or protective gear, there was nothing that I could do but get back away from the wreck and pray that the driver was already dead. I've seen people burn to death before and it's not something I'd wish on anyone. I scrambled out of the ditch and focused on moving some of the recently arrived bystanders back and enlisting the help of a couple of them to cut traffic on the road.
In a few minutes, local deputies showed up, followed by the local fire company. The fire was put out, and eventually a firefighter was able to make it down to the cab to confirm that the driver was in fact already gone.
I have my own opinions as to the cause(s) of the crash, and while I'm not privy to results of the blood test that'll surely be done, the smell of beer around the wreck coupled with the sight of the beer can in the dash cup holder were pretty suggestive. When are people going to learn that drinking and driving is a deadly mix? I'm sure that the rain and the fog didn't help, but why roll the dice against even worse odds by adding booze to the equation?
The plus side was that I at least got to say hi to several acquaintances among the police and fire responders. And I heard that another Sheriff's Deputy had wrecked en route (You're right, Nicki...two words) to this scene and required transport to the hospital.
As I stood there in the rain watching thirty or so other people trying to clean up one guy's mess, the beginning of an old Emily Dickinson poem came back to me.
Because I could not stop for Death, he kindly stopped for me...Awful nice of Death, stopping for this fellow in the middle of the night way out in the middle of nowhere like that. And once again it's clear that none of us have a guarantee of seeing tomorrow. I'm sure that the guy in the truck had no idea when he started his truck that he was taking his last drive. Any one of us--or all of us--could die today, either because we do something dumb, or because someone else near us does something dumb, or just because. So make good use of your time--today and every day--because you never know just how much or how little you have left.
EDITED: Turns out there were actually TWO people in the crushed cab of that truck...both dead.