Heather L Johnson
In Search of the Frightening and Beautiful
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stories

Stories contributed to In Search of the Frightening & Beautiful 4 / 2019. These are descriptions of transformative moments in people’s lives, from the subtle to the sublime. From each story I extract a key phrase and stitch it to a piece of linen that will be given as gifts to others I meet on the road, in exchange for a story of their own.

"The Accident". Phillip Walsh. Houston, TX.

The Accident 

On the 27th September 2016 at 4:00pm central time I was involved in an accident. STOP!! That’s not actually true, in typical British fashion I’ve pulled back and presented a sanitized, socially acceptable, don’t cause any trouble, statement. What happened was I was the victim of vehicular assault by the incompetence of a pick-up truck driver; I’m going to call him Marvin, because that’s his name. It is over a year later but in recent weeks the impact, both literal and metaphorical, has been playing on my mind, a lot! Today is the 24th November 2017 – Black Friday. 

Not sure what has triggered this, but I keep finding myself getting angry at the injustice of the whole thing. I’m writing this down to try and work it through and exorcise the demons. It may never get beyond me and the keyboard but let’s assume you are reading this with no idea or preconceived opinions of the events. I think I was inspired as I read recently you should write letters to people who have pissed you off and burn them; but what do you do with the letters? 

Official Version 

I have a copy of the police accident report; what a load of bullshit. You see I was not seriously injured but did suffer whiplash concussion. That means my head didn’t hit any external surface, but my brain was shaken so violently that the impact on inside of my skull was enough to cause the concussion. That rendered me very disorientated and unable to walk very well so, once it was established there were no broken bones, lacerations or trauma, I was placed on a stretcher, loaded into an ambulance and carted off to hospital about 3 miles away. I was not interviewed by the police at any point other than a quick look at me and confirmation of my name while I was still sitting in my car post impact. How an accident report can be compiled with out my input is beyond me, I might as well have been dead. When eventually I got a copy of the report my first impression was that the report concluded it was my fault sending me into a rage. On subsequent reading, after calming down, I realized I had got it wrong. Even so the actual details and conclusion were all based on a complete fabrication, I’m assuming by Marvin. Some of that is willful lying but some of it is because Marvin didn’t know what happened, because he wasn’t paying attention. 

You need some facts:

Location: I was stationary at the back of one of those lines of traffic that stop for no obvious reason, normally at peak times (as it was this Thursday afternoon in North West Houston). I was in the left lane on a two-lane elevated transition road that drops down onto a four-lane freeway. My normal route from work to home. This is a flyover from the Beltway (North Sam Houston Parkway to give it it’s official title), to the 249 heading North to Tomball and beyond. The two lanes on the section I was now sitting stationary on were the merging of one lane coming from the east off the Beltway turning right to head North (my route) and one lane from the West off the Beltway turning left to also head North (Marvin’s route). My approach from the East comes in on the right lane. If you stay in this lane you are filtered off on the next exit from the 249 so most traffic needs to be in the right lane to join the 249 proper. That is what I did. After the solid white lines had finished I moved over into the left lane all the while indicating my intension to move to the right (not many people use indicators in Houston on the freeways and when you do some people speed up to eliminate any reasonable gap there was for you to move into – they are assholes). On this evening the traffic in the right lane came to an abrupt stop just as I had completed the maneuver and I had to break harder than normal to make sure I did not hit the car in front. I came to a complete stop about 1 to 2 feet away from a bright yellow Nissan Xterra. Because of the sudden stop I immediately checked my rear-view mirror to see what was going on behind me. It was OK, I could see a Dodge 1500 pick-up truck not quite straightened from the bend as the lane merged form the Beltway heading from the West. He would automatically be in this right lane coming from that direction. I could see the truck and space around it in my rear-view mirror so that initial anxiety when you hit the brakes hard was dissipated. 

Technical Details:

I want to step away from the actual events at this point. I found writing the account above quite distressing; my heart is racing as I try to describe the mental picture that is etched so vividly in my mind. It is also an opportunity to throw in some factoids; 

1. A 2012 Dodge RAM 1500 Crew Cab with 5-foot 7-inch box has a curbside weight between 5,067 and 5,554 lbs. or 2,298 to 2,519 kg (sorry to mix the American and English here but that’s who I am). Marvin’s truck was a 2015 so it might be a little different 

2. According to CARS.com the stopping distance at 60 mph for a Dodge RAM 1500 is 159.1 feet

Some other information that is not as concrete is the relative distance between Marvin’s moving truck and my stationary car when I first looked in my mirror. By the way, I drove a 2010 Infinity G27 sedan at the time, I liked that car and kept it clean, well inside anyway. Looking at google maps and remembering how I always negotiated that transition onto the 249 I have concluded the maximum distance between us as 550ft and the minimum distance as 400ft. Even if I’m way off and have totally over estimated by a factor of two, with a stopping distance of 160ft for the dodge that’s still a good safety margin isn’t it. 

Back to the Action:

I’m not sure how fast Marvin was going but it wasn’t slow and the speed limit in that area is 65 mph so I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt and go with 60 mph. So back to the action; as I’m looking in the rear-view mirror my initial relaxation is reversed as I notice Marvin does not seem to be slowing down. His truck is very quickly filling the entire area of the mirror and then he seems to wake up and slams on the brakes. The truck jerks slightly to the right and smoke comes off his front left tire. At that point serious concern becomes a realization that this is it. Is this how it ends, like a sitting duck? I’m transfixed on the image in the mirror as the front grill with the head of a Ram dead center gets bigger and bigger until I look away, close my eyes, hunch my shoulders and grip the wheel for the inevitable impact. 

Travelling at 60 mph it takes 4 1⁄2 seconds to travel 400ft. I think Marvin saw me and slammed on about 100ft away so may be 5 to 6 seconds before impact. What the hell he was doing for the first 300ft is anyone’s guess, but it did not involve looking out of his front windshield. Doesn’t sound long really but I’d like you to count out 5 seconds now and imagine the progressively worsening view in that mirror. That’s an image I can not shake, it creeps in at random times with no rhyme or reason. On more than one occasion when I’ve told this story it’s been suggested I have PTSD. I don’t know that, but it seems plausible. I’m hoping writing this down will help but to be honest in the moment right now I’m not sure it was a good idea, but I’ve started so I’ll finish. 

There is enough anecdotal evidence, if not exact science, that we remember much more information during accidents and times of high anxiety or fear. I can vouch for that. Once I was resigned to the impact and braced for what was to come I remember the initial violent jolt but no specific noises. It felt like the car had been lifted from the back, tipped up if you will. Marvin had decided he was not going to stop in time and tried to veer to the right. He didn’t make it. I know now that the front left of his pickup connected with my rear right side of my car in a concentrated contact area. The impact was significant enough rip off the steel skin of my rear quarter panel; It was still attached to Marvin’s pick up once 

everything came to a stop. The energy imparted distorted the car frame, shattered my rear window and bent enough steel at the back to lock in and clamp onto one of those travel chairs that was in the trunk. After the initial hit I opened my eyes. In the melee I was able to watch my glasses fly in slow motion from my face to land in the passenger foot well. I could focus on different individual small fragments of glass from the rear window emanate from behind me and seemingly float through the air. One fragment cutting the skin on the little finger of my right hand. A very shallow cut that I was able to watch in detail; the formation of the flap of skin clearly visible as the glass barely sliced through the epidermis. It seemed like I could move my eyes to look at each piece of glass flying around the car and I felt the scattered tapping of toughened glass fragments hitting the back of my head and neck. What is not so clear is the feeling I was somehow pushed under the Xterre in front of me lifting it onto my bonnet (hood). 

In my peripheral vision to the right I saw Marvin’s truck come past my car sparks flying from his front left side and the road, his wheel bent and twisted, ripped away at 90 degrees to his axil. The truck came to a stop about two car lengths in front of me to the right blocking that lane. I was looking at this image directly when I felt another slight pump. I think that was the Xterre in front dropping back onto the road. The spare wheel positioned under the back of the vehicle had been pulled down but there was very little other damage from what I could see, and I couldn’t work out how my car had managed to get underneath the back of his. There was very little damage to the front of my car and what there was didn’t make sense. That doesn’t matter, I thought I was going to die, but I didn’t. 

June 28, 2018

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Heather L Johnson