Death Visits The Neighborhood


It was a morning just like any other.  My alarm went off and I brightly hopped out of bed.  Well, maybe groggily and reluctantly dragged myself out of bed might be closer to the truth.  But I had a mission to get my workout clothes on and head to the gym for my daily appointment with an exercise bike.

The gym is on the edge of my neighborhood, with four stop signs being the only only traffic control that comes between us.  That third stop sign revealed something unusual:  A wrecked Honda Civic.

My professional life deals with auto accidents so I have looked at hundreds pictures of wrecked cars.  It was pretty evident what happened:  Somebody had probably been out drinking and had not noticed that the street he was on came to a “T” intersection.  He (or she) was likely texting and saw neither the stop sign nor the yellow sign with arrows indicating “Dude, you’ve gotta turn!”  At least not until it was too late.

The driver must also have been quite surprised to discover that the homeowner, whose yard was the landing place for those who failed to make a turn, had engaged in a bit of “defensive landscaping” with several very large blocks of stone as edging for some greenery about ten or fifteen feet in from the edge of the street.

The Civic had clearly run into some of the stones which, of course, stopped it cold.  This looked like it had happened some time overnight.  The older-model car was surely totalled but didn’t really look too bad.  The driver probably hotfooted it away and called for a ride home.  Dealing with unlicensed or uninsured drivers as I do in my day-job, the old “Gee, my car must have been stolen last night” defense is tried more often than you might think for those who are afraid of the consequences of getting caught driving when they shouldn’t be.

I considered snapping a picture.  You know, to put online with some funny caption like “Rough night out” or “When the only choices are left or right, no choice at all doesn’t always work out.”  But it was dark and I needed to get to the gym.  I figured that there would be more light on the way back, so maybe then.

I got to the gym and rode my bike.  Twenty minutes on “rolling hills” is my thing.  I like the bike better than the treadmill because it allows me to multitask by catching up on some reading.  Yes, I know I should pedal longer, but . . . yeah.  After I had finished, I headed back to my car for the two minute drive home.

By now it was about 6:20 and the sun was coming up.  It was close to thirty minutes after I had first seen the wrecked Civic.  It remained there, so I could still shoot that picture.  I stopped at the stop sign and eyeballed whether I could get a decent shot.  Probably not.  I started my right turn to head home, then stopped.

Maybe I should back up, perhaps I could get a better picture that way.  There was no traffic, so I backed up and stopped again.  No cars were coming from any direction and nobody was out.  I decided that the only way to get a decent picture was to park and get out of the car.  It was then that I decided that this was a stupid idea.  I had things to do and I didn’t really have time to take a stupid picture of a stupid wrecked Honda and post it with a stupid caption that might get a chuckle from someone, but then again might not.  So I drove on home and went on with my day.

About 10:30 that morning I got a notification on my phone from a neighborhood news app.  The message shocked me.  It was titled “Fatal Car Accident In Neighborhood.”

The news article that was appended to the message indicated that neighbors had seen the wrecked car and called police some time after 6:30.  The police arrived and found the driver still in the car.  He was pronounced dead at the scene.

It immediately hit me that I had been there and seen the aftermath of that wreck – not once, but twice, and perhaps as long as an hour before police arrived.  The news has not provided much information other than that the driver was a male and that nobody knew what time the accident had happened.

Death is a condition that comes to all of us (and those around us) in the end.  But it does not usually come this close to me.  I cannot shake the questions: “could that driver have still been alive when I drove by?  Could I have gotten help to the scene sooner if I had stopped to see if anyone was hurt?”  As one who subscribes to the Catholic belief that we are intimately connected with angels, saints and even God himself, I wondered if the urge to stop been placed in me by some kind of devine whisper?  And had I ignored that whisper because I had other things to do?

My logical mind says that this accident happened long before I came along.  There was no steam coming from the smashed front of the car, no smell of hot anti-freeze, no lights on, no engine running, and certainly no movement inside.  Had any of those things been there, I would surely have stopped my car and checked on the person inside.  But I did not.  The situation just didn’t look that serious to me.

It was a busy news day that included a big story about a police officer being shot and killed and another who died several days after being in a bad accident.  The local media never came back to this story to identify the driver or explain what might have happened.  Someone later posted on the neighborhood app that the driver had been a young man, and that some relatives suspected a seizure.  But that is all I know.  At the urging of my Mrs., I left a message with the police with my contact information and a description of what I had seen and when.  But I never heard back from them.

We Catholics believe that prayers for those who have died do some good for the soul of the deceased, and I have said such a prayer for the young man who died there each time I have gone through that intersection.  But is that enough from the guy who could have stopped to help but did not?  I guess it will have to be.  But you had better believe that next time I come upon a wrecked car, I am going to get out and take a look.  Because someone’s life might actually depend on it.


10 thoughts on “Death Visits The Neighborhood

  1. Jim, you have a remarkable ability to often write about something that hits quite close to home, this time something which happened quite recently. I won’t elaborate out of respect to the family and the coworkers who were involved.

    However, I will offer a thought. While perhaps callous in appearance, and obviously said remotely, perhaps your guardian angel wanted to make you aware of the situation but wanted to spare you from seeing something unpleasant. That quandary is based upon nothing, but I’ve often wondered if greater forces direct us to be aware of things while other times we are more compelled to act.


  2. How terribly unsettling, JP. Whatever the situation was, my heart aches for the young man and for all who loved him. But I’m confident that even if you had approached the car there’s nothing you could have done for him (as you said, there were none of the signs of a recent collision). I’m glad you were spared a potentially traumatic sight ā€” and grateful also for the reminder that if we see something a bit “off” we should call the police. Take good care …


      • Hindsight is almost always 20/20, isn’t it? But please try not to be too hard on yourself for those woulda-shoulda-couldas ā€” something tells me that you always make the best decisions you can, based on what you know at the time.

        Liked by 1 person

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