"Oh my god, are there people in there?" We were driving east on I-40 just past Barstow, CA and to the right of the highway down an embankment was a smoking car turned upside down, a man running towards it. I slowed down as quickly as I could and pulled over to the shoulder. Matthew jumped out of the passenger door and began running. I backed the car along the shoulder, grabbed our phones, locked the doors and ran as well. I slid down the brush and gravel hill and when I got closer heard the man ask Matthew if he had a knife. Matthew pulled his Kershaw out of his pocket and handed it to him. I saw a woman's legs and heard her screaming. A boy of eight or nine was out of the car, standing about ten feet away, shaking and staring at the car, now on fire. Matthew and the man cut seat belts and pulled the baby and little girl through the windows. I put my arm over the boy's shoulder and across his chest and felt his heart racing. "They're getting out honey, it'll be okay."

Their mom was finally cut free and pulled out. A truck driver arrived with a fire extinguisher and the fire in the front and back of the car was doused. The family was banged up and cut and the mom was stumbling and wailing, "What happened? What happened?" She held her baby and looked at the car in shock and cried. She had no idea how her car had sailed off the highway and down the hill but a driver behind them saw the car swerve left, then right, and then was gone. The mom must have fallen asleep. She was moving to Chicago, driving her kids alone, and didn't get very far. Other cars stopped and more people helped with ice packs and water and pulled the family's suitcases over for the kids to sit on. They wrapped the kids in blankets and talked to them. Someone with OnStar called down the hill to tell us that the police and ambulance knew where we were and were on the way.

The first policewoman arrived and one of the bystanders filled her in on the kids' contusions and abrasions. I wished I were a nurse and knew words like contusion and was doing more than just rubbing the mom's legs and reminding her that her babies were safe. When more police showed up we felt in the way so we thanked the men we were standing with and went back to our car. As I drove away, I couldn't turn the music back on and I couldn't stop thinking about those children. They were so quiet; their mom was the only one making any noise. Were they okay? Was more wrong with them that we couldn't see? I couldn't stop thinking about how much worse it could have been: it might have happened on a less busy road with no witnesses. It could have happened after dark. The car could have gone to the left and into oncoming traffic. They could have not been wearing seat belts. The fire might have kept burning. Matthew might not have had a knife in his pocket. They could have easily lost their lives.

"Thank god you had your knife." They were stuck in there. "I'm a believer, I have to learn to use my knife now." #46 on my life list is to learn to open and close my switchblade properly. I put that on the list out of embarrassment, because I've had it for over a year and still feel like I'm going to injure myself every time I pick it up. I think it's funny to laugh at Matthew when he whips his knife out of his pocket to open a lollipop or a banana but I suddenly get it. Also, the AAA first aid kit I keep in the trunk is useless. I dabbed the baby's bloody nose with the tiny square of gauze in the kit and that was that. We already have two flashlights in the car and I keep a small one in my shoulder bag. I want to get more gauze, ace bandages, rubbing alcohol and blankets for the trunk. Maybe a glass breaker? Basically I want to become a first responder because I tend to take things too far. I hope the family is okay.


Alison Schumacher said...

How terrifying, Jess, for everyone involved. I'm glad you were able to be there to be a comfort to the kids and then their mom - what a nightmare.

ronckytonk said...

It was crazy, I was shaken for a good day afterwards. My father in law sent me the link to this car emergency tool that I am going to buy MANY of: http://www.bladehq.com/item--CRKT-ExiTool-Emergency--5913