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A Tragedy to Remember


This is a story about Bill and Helen. They were not famous people; they did not live an extravagant life; and they loved life as much as any of us. I imagine they were two nice, kind people who, after many years of marital union, still loved each other quite completely. They very likely went about their lives just like the rest of us: they woke; they ate; they worked; and they try to enjoy this finite thing called life. They are two people that, sadly, I only nearly met on Highway 27 near Sebring, Florida.

Saturday morning I was on my way to my ranch to try out a nice John Deere tractor I had just purchased. I was looking forward to getting into the air conditioned cockpit and mindlessly mow acres and acres of grass. I turned north onto U.S. 27 west of Lake Placid, Florida noticing that my view to the South was somewhat impeded by the dew on the windows. I stopped at the intersection, craned my neck, reached over to the passenger window and rolled it down. No auto windows for my pickup. I looked and saw no cars in the northbound lane and pulled out looking for a McDonald’s (I like my coffee hot). The morning was unseasonably cool, but humid; one of those mornings you only get in Florida. Traffic was sparse and it was a blue cloudless sky. I stopped for a light at the major intersection in Lake Placid. Only two other vehicles were stopped with me. I had the driver’s window down. My mind was a thousand miles away and as the light changed, a horn stirred me from my reverie. I noticed the green light and got moving again. The folks in back of me seemed to be in much more of a hurry than I was and as I crested a hill, I saw a police car occupying the left hand northbound lane parked at an angle.

It immediately seemed clear that some tragedy had occurred. I followed the directions of the officer directing traffic and saw 5 police vehicles at the intersection of 27 and Lake Henry road. The road here is straight for as far as a person can see. That is when I finally saw the pickup truck alongside the road and the tragic picture of a large man pinned under the frame of the truck. A piece of a Harley Davidson motorcycle lay just beyond the truck, bent like a hand had crushed it into a small jagged ball of glistening metal. Just beyond the largest parts of the cycle lay another human form, draped in a white cloth.

He and his wife had travelled from Jacksonville to Sebring on his motorcycle. It looked to be a beautiful morning for a ride as he noticed the golden rays of the sun reflecting off his pride and joy Harley parked in the motel lot. He jumped into his jeans, shirt and the too tight Harley vest he had to wear. He was itching for breakfast and the open road. His wife, Helen, heard the door close as he hoofed it to the office for coffee and what was likely to be stale donuts. Helen sat in a chair and held hands with Bill as they sipped their coffee and tried to swallow the stale Danish. Too soon for Helen, Bill leaped up and announced it was time to hit the road.  Bill and Helen lazily pulled onto Route 27.

Another man, James, was driving his small truck to a new job; preoccupied by the nervousness he felt for the whole process of “new”, he had not worked for a month and even new meant he could feed his family.

Bill saw the small Toyota truck as it activated a left turn blinker. He was travelling at 65 mph and all Helen experienced was the feel of the air passing around her.  Bill continued with the assurance that the small truck was going to stop before he made the left hand turn. After all, you can’t miss this shiny Harley approaching.

By the time James turned, it was too late for Bill to react. It was too late for Helen to know. It was too late for James to change his direction.

The Harley could zig too little and James could not zag at all. Bill frantically braked and felt his bike crumple against the side of the truck, with his last feeling being that of Helen’s body slamming against his back. Everything went still. A slight breeze blew the oily smoke from the scene. The driver of the pickup sat stunned behind the wheel his face bleeding from impact with the steering wheel.

A vehicle driving north came upon the scene and slowed. A little girl in the back seat had her face glued to the rear window and her father and mother drove past the scene and parked in the median south of the very quiet scene. His daughter was whimpering, “Daddy is the man O.K.? Why is he laying on the road under the truck…?” The father, opened the door, looked for traffic and looked at his daughter, “honey the man is sleeping. He will be O.K.” He was trembling as he punched 911 into his cell phone.

I trembled much later as I passed this very sad scene.

This is fictionalized. I filled in the blanks of what may have happened, what could have happened. I could do this because I have relived similar scenes with clients who were injured or lost loved ones in car and motorcycle crashes.

The scene I passed was all too real and it occupied my thoughts until today when I set this to paper. I thank the reader for your patience and I encourage each of you to set out driving as a single minded effort—a job, exclusive of everything else. That job may just keep you or a loved one alive to wake yet another day.

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