Since it was summer vacation, the kids were off from school. Laura went to work caring for an alzhimer patient. I worked from home on some of the various projects I had while watching the kids.
A club member showed up and dropped off a driveshaft I was supposed to bring up to Carlisle for another guy. Since this was the 1st time I ever met the fellow we chatted for a while. We were getting ready to leave for "Camaros at Carlisle/GM Nationals" in Carlisle Pennsylvania. I was supposed to play a big part in representing our car club at the event. Meanwhile my kids were playing in the pool.
Laura came home around 4:30pm and she wanted to take the kids to the waffle house since they had "kids eat free" coupons they got from school. Also, laura wasn't sure how to get to Breneau University in Gainesville. She had an appointment with a councellor the next day. She was transfering from the North Georgia College/State University nursing program to there. Since she was unfamiliar with getting to the school, she wanted to drive over there the night before, so she wouldn't get lost on her way to her appointment the next day.
Laura was flustered, and probably overwealmed with everything she "had" to do. Laura drove over to the waffle house. We had dinner. We walked out of the restraunt and I got into the drivers seat of the astro.
Normally the seating plans in the Astro are me in the drivers seat, laura in the passenger seat. Trey sits in the middle of the middle seat (which only has a lap belt) and kyle and dan sit in the rear seat. For some reason, trey decided to take his "woody" doll. I recall looking over my shoulder and watching trey buckle woody into the middle seat and he patted him on the head. This meant Trey was sitting behind me, with a shoulder and lap belt. Kyle was sitting behind laura and dan was out back by himself.
We then headed East on Hwy 53, to Gainesville. Hwy 53 is a rural 2 lane state highway. We were in northern Forsyth County, close to the point where you cross Lake Lanier and enter Hall County (Gainesville). I had contemplated stopping for gas (at Grannys), but continued on our way. At a part of town called "Chestatee Heights" around mile marker 4 I was following a pickup truck towing an empty trailer. I saw a cube van (or Box Truck) coming the other direction. It began to veer toward the centerline. I said "WTF". It straddled the centerline for a moment. I figured the guy would correct the van and veer back into his lane like you've seen countless times before, but then he came into our lane.
This picture oddly enough depicts the road and how things unfolded. I saw the truck coming at us when I was in the same spot as when the photo was taken. In the picture, you can see a vehicle up ahead of me. Right next to that vehicle is an orange sign affixed to the mile marker pole. We were impacted and stopped a couple feet in front of the mile marker pole. At normal speed, you'd close that distance in about 2 or 3 seconds.
Things happen fast. Very very fast. I thought to myself, "Holy **** this guy is going to go head on with the guy in front of me". I got off the gas and prepared myself for what was going to unfold in front of me. The guy in front of me swerved off the road and was sideswipped by the truck. I saw a bunch of stuff fly off his trailer and the trailer kicked over sideways. The truck blew right through the trailer and I said "nope - he's going head on with us". The speed limit on this road is 55mph. I was probably going 50mph now and this is happening a couple hundred feet in front of me. There was very little shoulder (grass) to work with. In some spots of the highway there is no shoulder at all, in fact if you go off the road you go down an embankment. Fortunantly for us there was about 20 feet of room off the side of the highway, so I prepared to use it. In the split seconds here, I had to make sure I kept control of the van. It's not uncommon for people to over-react and crash or make a bad situation worse. I also held out hope the guy would correct his van and get back into his lane. this fact, and the fact I couldn't see what was coming behind the truck (i.e. a semi ( one was), or an innocent family heading west) is why I didn't swerve into the other lane. I didn't want to go head-on with someone else. I was thinking "this effer is gonna kill you but everyone will know who's fault it was". So I was limited to staying in my lane or using the shoulder. At the time, the truck was in my lane. I got on the shoulder. The truck came through my lane and started toward the shoulder. I started correcting the direction of the van back into my original lane, hoping the van would pass directly in front of us and go carreneing off the road to our right, but the closing distance wasn't great enough and it became aparent we were going to collide. I tried (subconciously?) to position the van to increase the angle of the impact, still holding out hope he'd miss us.
I vividly recall seeing the truck about 5 feet out from my windshield. It was obvious a collision was imminenent. In the split seconds here, I recall saying to myself "you're gonna eat this", and "your first wreck will be your last". I shouted "LAURA!!!!... up until this time, I don't recall any reaction coming from her while I was setting up for this situation. Normally she "critiques" my driving and in a situation like this it wouldn't be unrealistic for her to be screaming. Apparently laura didn't see this coming. Another example of how quickly this happened.
Next thing I knew, I heard the loudest "BANG" you can imagine. I was stunned. I had smoke and steam all around me and I was numb. My ears were ringing. I had an airbag in my lap. This most likely is the definition of "having your bell rung". We came to an immediate stop and were turned perpendicular to the highway while sitting just off the pavement. The impact was extremely violent. I was shocked to realize I was still alive.
I immediately looked over at laura and her head was still recoiling from the impact. She was "out" and had blood all over her face. Her airbag was out too. I thought, "oh my god. This can't be happening." I prayed laura wasn't dead. I immediately looked over my shoulder and saw kyle sitting upright in his seat. His face was covered with bright red blood and I could see his white teeth in the center of that. His mouth was wide open and he was wailing. Trey was laying on his back looking up at the roof of the van and he was crying. I couldn't see or hear dan. I thought, "oh my God. Is this what's left of my family?" The many thoughts that ran through my head at that moment are indescribable. I could see through the rear window the truck that hit us was already on fire. Then something happened to me. I knocked the airbag down, tried to force the door open, it wouldn't open. Since most of the windows in the van were shattered I climbed out the window of my door. I rushed around to the passenger side of the van and went to laura. She was still "out" and was crushed by the dashboard (among other things). I tried to rip the door open, then immediately realized, even if I got the door open, she needed to be cut out of the van since she was smashed in there really tight. I was also looking through the side window (shattered out) and could see kyle and trey. I dove through the window, unbuckled kyle and passed him through the window. There was a man (I believe - could only see the torso) standing there who took him when I passed him out through the window. I saw him run off with Kyle, and I unbuckled Trey and did the same thing with him. Someone was standing by the door and could take him when I passed him out. They ran off with Trey.
I then dropped the middle seat so I could get to dan. I could hear the truck that hit us exploding. I could see the flames now were very high... probably 100 feet and the tree the truck had run into was swaying wildly. A thick black smoke was rising from the top of the flames which were engulfing all the leaves at the top of the tree. The truck was around 20 feet behind us.
I saw dan laying across the seat. His face was flat. His nose was gone. His eyes were rolling into the back of his head and he was making a "gurgling" or choking sound. I knew he was dying. I took one more look out the back window and saw the truck engulfed in flames, and I prayed "hold on buddy". Please, hold on. I knew I had to get him out. The seatbelt release was buried behind his hip. I put my hand down there, released the belt, then grabbed him by the neck of his shirt and the waist of his pants and I lifted him over to the window. I was beginning to hyper-ventilate and I recall saying to whoever I passed dan to - "Please God, save my son". The person I passed dan to (I believe it was the kid who hit us) cradled him and ran off with him.
I climbed out the side window and fell on the ground. I could feel my pants legs were wet with anti-freeze. With the kids out of the van I immediately turned back to laura, who was just starting to come to. This picked me up a whole lot because this indicated she was still alive. I held her hand and tried to comfort her. I felt helpless not being able to do anything for her except be there.
She started to say "weird things". She was in shock. She remembered seeing a truck, but thought it was a dream. I told her it wasn't a dream, it was real. She then got hysterical and cried for her babies. "Oh my god mike, get my babies". I told her I got the kids out of the van. She then cried that she was on fire. A man (now known to me) was onhand with a (small) fire extinguisher. We both looked and couldn't find any flames... so the fellow shot a blast of chemical at the firewall area. She was still crying she was on fire. I looked over at the truck, now a burning inferno (behind her and out of her view) and thought to myself - "you ain't on fire, yet, sweetie". Knowing my pants were soaked with anti-freeze, I knew she was being scalded by the heater core and radiator fluid.
I now got really concerned about what was going on. With laura back to crying
for her babies, I told her I'd go check on them. I was limping heavily (because
I had smashed my knee, among other things). I limped over to where dan was. They
had laid dan down on the side of the road (which caused initial reports to say
he was ejected from the vehicle). For some reason (prior to an ambulance
arrival), I recall seeing a lady in scrubs (medical cloths). She was kneeling
down and was stabilizing dans head. A balding man in his 40's wearing only cut
off shorts, was straddling dan - and working one of those plastic respirator
(Ironically this is the guy, in the
center of the photo.)
I have no idea where they or that life saving item came from. I don't
recall seeing any ambulances at this time. Maybe she was from the ambulance.
Time was difficult to guage at this point.
note:This question was nagging me for a while, so I inquired about it to the accident investigator. He dug through the statements people made of the situation. Witnesses, are people who actually saw the accident happen. Other people can often simply make a statement about what they did at the scene after the accident. There was a statement made by a lady. Her occupation is listed as "nurse for north east georgia medical center". She stated she came upon the accident and witnessed a child convulsing and unresponsive. She stated what she did. I asked if she had came from the EMS crew. The investigator said "no. Her time on scene was 7:10PM". I asked what time the ambulance(s) arrived. The investigator said the 1st unit on scene was reported to be at 7:18PM. When I heard this I broke down.
I recall people (sheriff deputies, 1 ambulance) were starting to show up. The road was blocked, both ways and traffic was stacking up. I spoke to a deputy and he asked me who I was/where I came from. I told him I was in the truck. He said which one. I said the green one (I called the astro a truck). He said WHERE? I said "I was driving the f***in thing". He looked at me funny, took a step or two backwards, and then said "why don't you go get in the ambulance". I sat down in the back of the ambulance but was looking back at laura. She looked terrified and helpless and I couldn't deal with that, so I limped back over to laura. On my way over to the van I was asking at the top of my lungs "where the **** fire trucks" were. While making my way back to laura I noticed my spare tire (bolted under the back of the astro) in the middle of the road a fair distance away from the van. I got back over to laura.
Next thing I knew, a fire truck arrived (Forsyth county has a volunteer fire dept.) Some firemen and some volunteers bailed off the truck and were tossing hose off the truck. They connected the hoses and started extinguishing the flames from the truck. I noticed the jaws of life compressor laying on the ground a couple feet from the van. At this point in time, I realized the help laura needed had arrived and I couldn't do anything else, except get in the way, so I started backing away from the van. I also started to fall apart. At this moment, a deputy took me by the arm and moved me away from laura. He put me in front of the fire truck, but I was able to look over my shoulder and see about 7 or 8 firemen ripping the van apart to get laura out.
A lady wearing a red/white striped shirt ran up to me and asked if I was the childrens dad. I said yes. She told me she had trey and kyle in the back of her car and they were "alright". I thanked her. How can you thank her? (I was since told that this or some other lady with a brand new Lexus insisted on keeping the 2 boys away from Dan... in doing this, the interior of her car was ruined with blood).
I was quizzed to see if I had a license (I did), and if I had insurance. They wanted to see it. I got my wallet out, and told them my insurance card was inches away from being on fire. I looked at the policeman and told him "I'm insured". I was concerned that I had been doing all sorts of things, but knew I was hurt, and told him I was hurt. At this point in time, things started getting "dreamy like". I started to collapse and was caught by a fireman and deputy. I was laid down on the street on a backboard. They put a "C" collar on my neck and strapped me to the backboard. I was looking up at the sky and could hear voices of people talking. I recall hearing about "setting up a LZ" and "we're going to fly the female". I thought to myself, please God, my son is dying, fly him. Get him out of here.
I got picked up and was loaded into the ambulance. I was still coherent and a ambulance person said "your 2 boys are in another ambulance on their way to North East Georgia Medical Center. We're loading your wife next to you, and your son is being flown to Scottish Rite". That was a major uplift in spirits since I knew my son had a chance if he could get there alive. I didn't know much about Scottish Rite (then), but I knew it was one of the better childrens trauma centers in the region. (it is).
The above is my observation and statement of events as I recall them. At this point of the story I'll stop (or should). Dan survived. For many reasons. He's truly a miracle. Laura was crushed and had a broken femer. To brake this bone requires a massive force. It also runs right next to a major artery, which if severed, you bleed to death relatively quickly. She'll most likely recover.
I took a lot of detail photos of the van to show how it crushed and folded like it's designed to do. I believe the Astro played a major part in saving our lives. In a lesser vehicle (typical FWD mini-van), or one without airbags (like my 1990 suburban) and I wouldn't be typing this story. Notice the orange paint on the tires of my van. It corresponds to the markings on the road which documents the scene at a (usually) fatal accident.
This incendent was the most violent thing I guess you can live through. Most people tend to die just after they experience something like this. (un)fortunantly, I remember the whole thing (and unfortunantly, Trey remembers his interpretation of what happened too). Laura & Kyle don't remember the accident. Dan never knew what hit him.
I'd like to thank the citizens of Forsyth County Georgia who came to our aid. Not only the volunteer fire fighters, but the sheriff department and passerbys. If you ever contemplate stopping at an accident scene, remember, you can make a difference. (picture someone dumping their kids out the window rather than passing them to someone such as yourself.)
Ironically, Breneau University is right next door to the North East Georgia hospital.
Suddenly, all the stuff that needed to be done was irrelevant. If anyone can learn anything from this situation: Don't take anything for granted. Love your children and your spouse. And let them know it. Don't be in a hurry. Enjoy life. Worry about what's important, and not petty things.
Wear your seatbelt.Post Script:
4 of us were brought to a hospital in Gainesville by ambulance. Dan was life flighted down to Egleston (Childrens Healthcare of Atlanta). I now know he was flown to North Fulton Hospital 1st whereupon the trauma nurse immediately forwarded him down to Egleston Childrens Hospital in grave condition.
I'm not religious, and I'm still not, but what happened to us was 1 miracle after another. It's hard to explain.
I told my dad I spoke with Dan while I was in the ambulance (he said "I'll be ok dad"). When I heard this it put me at piece. My dad thought I had got knocked in the head. I did get knocked in the head, but later on he realized some weird things happened and if you tried to add them up....
Aunt Adeline... my grandpa's sister... was 92 and lived in Palm Springs California. Back in 1987 before me & Laura got married, we went to visit her. She was frail. I recall her telling me and laura we were in "puppy love". That struck me at the time. Aunt Adeline favored laura. Over the years they would correspond with each other. Unknown to me - my dad got 2 phone calls that night. The 1st was for us. I didn't know that he also got a call about Aunt Adeline. She decided to die of old age that night, at that time. Dan never went to California, but I know he met Aunt Adeline, once... by the side of the road where she told him to stay with us and she took his place.
Several months after the wreck I was tucking Dan into bed. I was just looking at him.
I told him "I love you Dan". He said "I know." I told him "if anything happened to you..."
and he said "I know... you'd be hurt. I don't remember much about the accident because I was unconsious. All I can remember is seeing myself in the street saying "hey, is that me? What am I doing there?". But I don't remember because I was unconsious."
I just sat there in stunned silence. Dan was 8 years old when he was saying this.
Puppy love. Laura and I had been married for 14 years. We were having a hard time. As I was laying in the ambulance in the dark she was slid in next to me. I reached out and held her hand. I said "I love you". And she said "I love you too". I hadn't heard this in years. I wasn't the best husband or dad. On this day I believe I was able to wipe my slate clean and start fresh. I was lauras hero. I was reborn. I will always tell laura "I love you" because you may not get the chance to say this.
I was/am convinced that if I was in the van by myself - I would have been killed in this accident. I was spared and left in a functional state because I was needed to help save my kids. I was given the opportunity by someone to "get my shit together". I took that opportunity and try to be the best person I can be every day.
After I came out of the x-ray room at the hospital and went back into the emergency room where Laura, Kyle & Trey were I was approached by a man wearing a church shirt. He said "Hi Michael... do you know why I'm here?". I said "yes, you're here to tell me my son died". He said "no. I'm here to help you." This man was from Concord Baptist Church in Cumming Georgia. I wasn't a member, in fact I'm Protestant, but our neighbor who we asked to get down to Egleston to be with Dan mobilized her church prior to her leaving for Atlanta. They helped our family beyond words.
posted a notice informing our group about our accident.
I posted my "Miracles can happen" post a day or two later.
The support and prayers we got from car sites and folks all over the world was overwelming.
Kyle had head trauma and required plastic surgury to repair his face. At the accident scene the "lady in red" took him and trey and insisted they be put in the back seat of her car parked a distance away from the accident scene. I was informed this was a new lexus (?) with leather interior, etc... the rear of her car was ruined with Kyles blood. The "nurse lady" - who left work late and had her emergency medical kit for some reason informed the lady in red how to treat kyle while waiting for medical assistance to arrive. Kyle still has a slight scar - from eyelid to eyelid.... where the shattering side window missed taking his eyes by 1/4 of an inch on both sides.
Trey was shaken up severely and traumatized. I was told at the accident scene he was quickly moved away from Dan & Laura by the above mentioned lady in the red shirt. He told her "Dannys dead".
Laura had a broken femur and cuts and stuff. They screwed her leg back together and put a rod in there somewhere. It took her a couple months to get back to being able to walk without assistance or a cane.
Dan - had severe head trauma, a fractured back (found several days later after he stabilized) and a fractured skull. I stayed with Laura, Kyle & Trey in the Gainesville hospital 1 night - for kyle to be operated on. Our family friends (Carita & Phil) then stayed with the boys. The next day as Laura was being wheeled into surgury I walked with her down to the surgury doors, I kissed her goodbye and said I love her, then turned around and hitched a ride down to Egleston with Phil.
When I arrived at the hospital, I walked into Dans room. What I saw tore my heart out (again). I immediately broke down and sobbed like a baby. My sister was in the room with Dan and she told me to "get my shit together - for his sake". I quickly did. Dan was in a coma & on life support, but he was still alive. I would go to the hospital library and get books to read to dan while he was in a coma. I would also use the computer to communicate with our group. I was informed we had a 3 day hurdle to make it through before we knew what we had to work with. After 4 days they began trying to wean him off life support. After 5 days, I got a ride home to get some cloths and some other stuff. As I walked into my garage I stood next to my 2 Z28's. I stared at them for 5 minutes. I told God I'd give all that stuff away if I had to - if it would help Dan and my family get better. A week after the accident I brought a picture of dan to the hospital to help surgeons rebuild his nose. He was checked periodically by the rehab nurses. They wanted him to throw a ball, or follow their finger, or do some task, and he couldn't. I'd quietly get pissed wondering how he could do that stuff when he was smashed up. They said he might need 40 days of rehab. As he cleared 1 hurdle after another (surviving, not being paralyzed, recognizing me...) I figured we were all good. After several days I called Laura and said "someone wanted to talk to her". Laura was initially frightened, until she heard "hi mom. I'm hurt.". After 10 days of being in the hospital, Laura was able to be brought down to Egleston to be with us. On the 10th day of being in the ICU a doctor came in and said "Dan - would you like to go home today". I broke down and cried like a baby. We were able to take dan home.
When Dan was discharged, he was discharged into outpatient rehab. They recommended 40 days. I was shocked - until they asked him what his phone # was and he said "Dawsonville". At that point in time I realized we still had some hurdles to overcome.
I smashed my back, chest, knee & my wrist. I had glass embedded in my hands and arm. I couldn't open a door with my left hand and walked with a heavy limp for several weeks. It also had a hard time breathing for a week. They thought I had broken ribs but I didn't stick around at the hospital long enough for any treatment for me. I was picking glass out of my head and my ass for several days. I recall being in the ICU and having glass falling down my pants leg. After I was analyzing what happened, I wondered how I could dead lift 100 pounds (Kyle) while on my knees in the van and move him over to the window. They said it was adrenaline. I'm sure I had "help" picking them up. It was the same person who had put His hand at my firewall and said this is as far as you can go. Had it not gone this way, the truck would have driven through the windshield and taken us all.
Laura took this accident as a sign that nursing wasn't meant to be for her. She didn't get in to NGCSU, and she didn't make it down to Bruneau. After the accident all she had to focus on was getting better (being able to walk). Then 3 weeks after the accident, she got a letter in the mail from NGCSU - they had a nursing slot and were asking if she was interested. I told her to "go for it". She did. It wasn't easy, but in May 2006, Laura graduated as a Registered Nurse. She was offered and accepted a position with Childrens Healthcare of Atlanta.
I had worked for myself for several years. I tried getting back into the computer industry, but there was nothing going on. This accident knocked me out of being able to work. The generocity of the folks on my site kept me afloat for 2 months. While I was bringing dan to rehab - out of the blue... one of my "car friends" emailed me. "my boss wants to talk to you.". I asked him what they wanted. They wanted to hire me as a technical adviser at a muscle car restoration company. I asked if they could wait until I got Dan through rehab and they said "sure". After dan finished rehab, I started and still work for this company.
As time goes by and the trauma lessens, I still find myself thinking about what happened to me & my family. I appriciate what I have. I have to drive by "the spot" twice a day going to work. I try to not drive by around 7:10PM. I can't help but glance over at the tree. Laura saw the "car community" come together for us, and what happened at Carlisle that year. Because of this, she will not miss Carlisle. We now go every year and it's sort of an informal reunion for us. We are very lucky to still have our family intact.