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Not Just Another Day in Paradise

This Week's Issue: Homer learns that when we start our day, we really never know how it will end. Homer, who has never witnessed an accident, learns that we live in an uncertain world, and every day is not just "another day in paradise."

The sound of the crash was horrendous; it started with a loud metallic thud, and it was followed by the clatter of small pieces of metal and glass tinkling down sporadically on metal surfaces. Except for the billowing cloud of dust that mushroomed high above the debris, all was quiet for just a moment. And then, through the haze, the eerie wail of a car horn began, and continued uninterrupted as our staff at the Inn became fully aware of what was unfolding below on Route 60.

As Micah Davenport ran toward the scene, he could see a now-familiar white Freightliner 18 foot box truck lying on it's side, taking up nearly both lanes of Route 60, with the front of it's fiberglass cab extending onto Faded Glory's lawn and driveway. Diesel fuel was trickling freely from it's saddle tanks and running in rivulets down the highway. Seconds earlier, as he ran down the porch stairs, Micah had yelled to Isabel, "Call rescue!" Isabel responded quickly and left the porch, headed for the telephone.

Although Isabel takes a dim view of my going anywhere near Route 60, I got caught up in the panic and followed close on Micah's heels as he plunged down the steep lawn toward the highway. As we approached, we saw the driver's side door of the truck open slowly toward the sky and the burly figure of a middle-aged man in overalls claw his way out of the doorway to the upright side of the overturned vehicle. The engine was now still, but the right directional flasher maintained a relentless pulse above the truck's smashed headlight. We were staring at what was left of our food-service delivery truck from Gainesville. Mel Couch, our regular driver, appeared to be all right as he emerged from the opening, but his employer, Food Fare, Inc. was encountering a bad day indeed.

Micah just kept running as Mel gestured towards a wrecked station-wagon in the center of the highway behind his truck. The car had not overturned, but there was nothing recognizable remaining from the windshield forward. There was a crackling and popping sound emanating from under what might have once been the hood, and we were both able to see yellow flames licking upward from what I suppose was the engine compartment. I have never witnessed an accident before, but I can tell you, things didn't look good!

With my acute hearing, I was already aware of the sound of sirens in the distance. Micah had reached the station wagon and was in the process of getting the passenger side door open. The car's driver was motionless, and the lone passenger was now moving. As I watched from my vantage point on the grass, I could see the front seat passenger attempting to push on the door as Micah attempted to wrench it open. Obviously in a state of shock, the passenger, a middle-aged woman, was of little or no help, but the fact that she was conscious at all was a positive sign. Flames now shooting from the engine compartment were definitely shortening the timeframe for removing the occupants, and I began frantically to wonder just how soon some form of assistance would arrive on the scene. Micah was operating on an adrenalin rush, and when Isabel suddenly appeared by his side, she turned out to be more of a hindrance than a help. Isabel said later, "That in situations like this, a mere ten minutes seems like an eternity." If I had been bleeding at the scene, I would have readily agreed.

Once he had the door opened wide, Micah lifted the passenger gently, cradled her protectively in his arms, and lunged in my direction. He put her down beside me; blood was everywhere! As Micah began to turn back toward the burning car, a firetruck and a Fannin County EMT Rescue truck roared into view in the southbound lane with their lights flashing. Fannin County's volunteer fire department began 'working' the engine fire with portable extinguishers until fire hoses could be deployed from a big red tanker truck that had pulled up nearby. The driver of the station wagon was obviously gravely injured and the EMTs on the scene administered life saving aid and prepared an EMS backboard even before his removal from the smoking wreckage.

From that moment onward, the arrival of rescue, police and medical personnel was exponential. Fannin Sheriff's Department put out flares, Georgia State Patrol diverted traffic and set up a temporary detour, and county police and rescue people from three surrounding counties poured into the area in a belated effort to help.

I stood quietly as the EMTs attempted to stop the bleeding and stabilize the wounds of the female passenger, and I heard them say that she had not been belted into the car. She had sustained multiple compound fractures and "extreme trauma" from hitting the windshield. When I saw Isabel crying five minutes later, I realized that they had been unable to save their patient. I watched minutes later as an exhausted young medic pulled a white blanket over her face.

The driver of the car, Henry Cobb, was strapped onto an EMS backboard, his wounds stabilized, vital signs checked, loaded into a waiting ambulance, and carried to the regional hospital with lights flashing and sirens blaring. The EMTs on the scene told Sheriff Kenny Payne that they had high hopes for Mr. Cobb's recovery because he had been wearing a seatbelt at the time of the impact.

Mel, our delivery driver from Food Fare, told the State Patrol that he had turned on his turn signal and geared down to make his turn into Faded Glory's driveway when he was struck from the rear by the Cobb's vehicle which was traveling at a very high speed. The Cobb's station wagon, a large Buick, had gone under the rear of his box truck, lifting it up, and spinning it over on it's side. The impact was so great that the dual rear axles of Mel's truck were broken free and pushed 16 inches forward under the chassis. Luckily, Mel escaped with bruises and a small cut just above his eye, but his truck was probably totaled. Mel later became extremely distraught when he learned that Mrs. Cobb had died in the crash. It didn't seem to help when Sheriff Kenny Payne told him that there was nothing he could have done to prevent the accident. Lack of any skid marks indicated that Mr. Cobb had been driving at a high rate of speed and had never seen Mel's truck turning.

Henry Cobb said later at the hospital that he and his wife, Mary Ellen, had been driving from their home in North Carolina to a wedding in Dahlonega, and that they were running behind schedule and driving "a bit fast to make up for lost time."

The odor of spilled diesel fuel has long dissipated, the marks on the highway have been obliterated by passing traffic, and unless you look real close, you might never know what occurred out in front of our quiet Inn on that hazy July morning, but now, when we hear the drone of Mel's new truck coming up the driveway once each week, we will never forget that it's truly a dangerous world out there.

© 2010-2011 David Johnson, All Rights Reserved