I remembered something today that took place in the 90’s that really stuck with me. The entire event took about 5 minutes, but there were so many dynamics.
My friend Kathie Smith, her friend, Ron, Tim (my husband at the time), his friend Mark, both our kiddos and I were involved in this story. Kathie, Ron and Mark had come out to Colorado to stay with us and do some skiing. They rented a Cadillac and all of us, kids included had a blast driving up to Breckenridge from Denver one afternoon. We laughed with Ron who had never seen the mountains and said he expected them to look more like they did in the Road Runner cartoons. His references, had me laughing so hard – especially because he was unaware just how many of them had to do with either cartoons or television shows from the 60’s. A passing vehicle looked “just like the one from DAKTARI!!” and then he commented on Tim’s arms – “Geez, Tim – do you work out or what? Your arms are just like Popeye’s”
It was good to have friends from home (MN) and we had a good meal in Breckenridge and left for home – all of us agreed Tim would be the best person to drive because he was a truck driver and very accustomed to mountain driving. Highway 285 was becoming pretty slick and the snow started coming down hard. Of course, it was very dark and we were a bit tense but not stressed.
Very quickly, Tim’s sharp eye caught a light in the trees – and it passed through twice while none of the rest of us noticed. Naturally, we were confused when he slowed the car down to a crawl. I asked him what was going on and he just said he saw a light in the trees to the right. Around the next curve, we came upon a jeep that had rolled over and was spinning on its roof. Fuel was all over the road and the roof was smashed in leaving very little space between it and the drivers seat. The headlights had gone out and it was barely visible in the heavy snowfall.
What followed still amazes me in retrospect. As Tim pulled the car over, Ron and Mark volunteered “because we are single men” to approach the vehicle.(because of the leaking fuel and the risk of another car hitting the jeep on the dark road) Kathie instantly began trying to remember the order of things to do when helping an injured person and ordered me to stay with my kids because I was the mother and my kids needed me to be safe. We all instructed Tim to stay put because he had kids to take care of and bigger responsibilities. All 3 men went. I urged Kathie to stay with me until she knew whether or not the driver or possible passengers were injured and needed medical help of some sort. I’m pretty sure she left the vehicle but didn’t get as far as the guys did. The jeep took a final spin and the driver emerged, still wearing his cowboy hat. He was physically fine, but in a bit of shock. The men suggested everyone stay away from the jeep which was still spilling fuel on the road.
Incredibly, a highway patrolman came from the other direction and had no idea there had been an accident. He asked for our help – backing up a bit and putting on our flashers to warn any oncoming drivers there was an accident ahead because the jeep was in the center of the road and around a curve – anyone approaching from either direction would most likely hit it. When another officer arrived, he thanked us and sent us on our way.
It was a rather quiet 2.5 hour drive home. As often happens in the winter, once we hit the lower elevations, the roads were dry and clear and there was no indication it had even snowed. When we got the kids to bed and sat down for a beer, we reviewed how quickly we had made decisions and worked so well as a team for something we had never prepared ourselves for. Had Tim not seen that headlight flash briefly in the trees, we would have hit that jeep – it was too icy to avoid. The Highway Patrol Car was the first car to come along after the accident and as soon as we assisted the officer in setting up cones and triangles, several cars came from both directions.
I have no idea what stirred that memory today, but sometimes minutes really count. We couldn’t have asked for better timing. Tim passed in 2010 and it’s at times like this I’d like to pick up the phone and ask him if he remembers that night in the mountains when his quick thinking saved us and a stranger in a cowboy hat from what could have been a terrible accident.
You know, I think I do know why I thought about that incident afterall. I saw a sign on I-25 north today. “TRUCKERS”, it said, “WINTER IS COMING, GOT CHAINS?”………….