A Charmed Life
Chapter 21: A Brief Detour
Copyright© 2016 by The Outsider
14 June 1991 - Interstate 90 Eastbound, Conneaut, Ohio
Five days later Jeff was driving east through Ohio. He hadn’t been pushing very hard to get home until today. He’d started the day west of Cleveland; two hours later he was to its east and almost into Pennsylvania. His plan was to push through the remaining miles to Enfield. That was the plan, at least.
Jeff was on I-90, which would become the Massachusetts Turnpike at some point that night. His truck cruised along in the right lane of the two eastbound lanes. He sometimes needed to change lanes to avoid traffic merging at the exits, but otherwise it was an easy ride. He wasn’t trying to win any races and didn’t care if people passed him; he was only doing five miles an hour over the posted speed limit. His window was rolled down and he enjoyed the warm morning air while he rolled along. Home wasn’t going anywhere.
A high-pitched engine’s sound cut through the cab of his truck, overpowering the music Jeff was playing. A glance in his rear view mirror showed a low-slung import weaving in and out of traffic. The engine had to be turning four to five thousand RPM from the way it was whining. The import blew by him, causing his truck to rock as it passed.
“Dick,” he muttered. “There’s always someone who wants to be first.” Jeff’s laid-back attitude vanished moments later when the import’s brake lights came on in the distance. The lights veered left and the car flipped down the highway while half a dozen other cars also collided in front of him. “SHIT!”
He darted around the crash using the breakdown lane and parked off the road well past the accident. Jeff hit his flashers and grabbed the first aid kit he carried; he locked the doors of the truck and pocketed his keys. He heard brakes squeal ahead of him while he jogged to the import. He spared a glance and confirmed that traffic stopped well back from the crash.
The import was, somehow, upright on its wheels. The car was almost unrecognizable compared to the last time he’d seen it, however. The driver, who hadn’t been wearing his seatbelt, was still in the car. There was a large gash across his forehead but it hadn’t bled. His head hung at an unnatural angle from his neck. Glancing at the interior of the car, Jeff guessed the driver’s neck broke upon impact with the collapsing roof. The passenger must not have been wearing his seat belt, either; what was left of him was hanging halfway out his window. The car had crushed the half-ejected passenger while it rolled. Jeff shook his head as he walked back to the rest of the accident.
“Hey!” Jeff called to the driver in the first car he came to, one with heavy front-end damage. “You alright?”
“I think I just lost twenty years off my life but other than that, yeah.”
“Okay, the police should be here soon. Sit tight.” The man waved his thanks and Jeff moved to check the rest of the cars.
“Need any help?” asked a man approaching from the direction of the stopped traffic.
“Yes, sir. Can you find the driver of that tractor trailer over there? Ask him to make sure the police know about this using his CB?”
“Already called it in. That’s my rig.”
“Perfect, thanks. If you have a first aid kit, would you mind grabbing it and checking the other cars? I’m headed to that minivan over there; I hear some yelling coming from it.” The trucker gave him a thumbs-up and ran back to his truck. The crying of a young child mixed with an adult’s cries for help grew louder while he approached the van.
The van’s driver looked like she’d been painted red from the forehead down. The blood covering her face was hardened, causing her eyes to be stuck closed. There was a large, jagged cut across her forehead and up into her hairline. The van’s left front corner was heavily damaged. The driver’s blood-soaked sun visor sat in her lap.
“Help!” she called out the window as Jeff approached.
“Ma’am? My name is Jeff. I’ve got some gauze here that I’m going to put over a big cut on your forehead. Then I’m going to try to clean some of the blood off your face, okay?”
“My son! Is he okay?”
Jeff glanced in the back seat of the van. A two or three year-old boy was secured in a car seat; he was crying, but looked uninjured otherwise. “Hey, little fella. I’m gonna help your mom, okay?” The boy didn’t respond, he just kept crying.
“He doesn’t look injured and his seat’s not damaged at all. I think he’s crying because he’s scared. What’s your name, ma’am?” Jeff asked while he covered the cut with a wad of gauze pressed to her head, then secured it with a military field bandage.
“Donna. Are you with the ambulance?” she asked while holding the bandage to her head with her right hand; Jeff tied the ends of the bandage around her head to hold it in place.
“No, Donna, I’m just another motorist headed home. I couldn’t not help out. The ambulance should be here soon. Traffic’s already pretty backed up, so I’m sure they’re going to have a little trouble getting through.” Jeff used damp gauze to sponge the dried and drying blood off her face.
“I can’t move my legs,” Donna said matter-of-factly.
Jeff stopped cleaning Donna’s face. “You can’t move your legs?” he asked, glancing down. Her legs disappeared into a mass of metal.
“I can feel them, but for some reason I can’t move them. It feels like there’s something digging into my left leg.”
Relief washed over Jeff. “The front of your van looks like it crumpled around your legs. That might be why you can’t move them. There’s no other damage inside the car, though.” Jeff cleared enough of the blood off Donna’s face for her to open her eyes. “Hey, little lady. Can you see me okay?”
“Yes. I’ve got a terrible headache, though.”
“You’ve got a pretty good gash on your forehead up by your hairline, Donna; it looks like you took down your sun visor with your forehead. That might be it.” Donna’s son was now quiet and looking around. “What’s your son’s name?”
“Jeffrey. He’s four. Jeffrey, say hi to the man helping Mommy.”
Jeff smiled at the boy in the back seat when the little man waved at him. “Your name’s Jeffrey?” The boy nodded. “What a great name! My name is Jeffrey, too! It’s the best name in the world!” The little boy smiled back.
An Ohio State Highway Patrol cruiser pulled down the breakdown lane and parked behind Jeff’s truck. Jeff waved to the trooper when he stepped out of the patrol car. The man placed his campaign cover on his head and stepped over.
“Good morning, Trooper. There’s two dead in that import up there. You might want to cover that car with a tarp or something; the passenger was crushed by the car as it rolled. On-coming traffic might see that. That car there has a gentleman who was scared half to death, but says he’s otherwise uninjured. Other than Donna and her young son here, I don’t know who else might be injured. The driver of the big rig there was checking the rest of the cars with his first aid kit while I worked this side of the crash. Donna can’t move her lower legs; the front of the van is crushed around them. She does have feeling in them, however. She says she can feel something sticking into her left leg.”
Trooper Phil Jackson rarely got that kind of report from a bystander. “What fire department are you with? That was a very succinct and comprehensive report.” The bag and pile of bloody gauze at the man’s feet hinted that the man might be in public safety.
“None, sir. I just got out of the Army. Infantry. Gotta be able to size up what you see pretty quickly, you know?”
“I do. Someone will need to talk to you after we take care of the accident.”
“Roger, Trooper. I’ll be here.” The trooper nodded and walked away. “Donna, does your neck hurt?”
“A little. I think my head snapped back when I hit the sun visor.” Jeff gently probed the back of her neck from the base of the skull to the level of her shoulders. He didn’t feel anything out of the ordinary, but Donna sucked in a sharp breath when he touched a spot halfway down the neck.
“I don’t feel anything wrong, Donna, but with the pain you’re feeling in that spot try to keep your head still, okay?” Jeff reached through the window; he manipulated the rear view mirror so that she could see her son. “Can you see Jeffrey now?”
“I can, thank you. Hi, pumpkin! Mommy’s got a boo-boo, but I’ll be okay!” Jeffrey looked like he was about to start crying again.
“Buddy, that’s just a big Band-Aid on Mommy’s head, okay?” Jeff said to the little boy. Jeffrey looked at Big Jeff, then back at Mommy.
“It’s okay, pumpkin,” she said to Jeffrey, trying to soothe him. “I’m not still covered in blood, am I?” she whispered to Jeff.
“Well, you’ll need a little more clean-up, but you don’t look like Carrie at the prom any longer.”
Donna chuckled. “Bastard.”
An ambulance pulled up behind a fire engine; the crews were met by the trooper Jeff talked to earlier. He could see the trooper pointing out various things around the accident scene. Two of the engine’s crew retrieved a large canvas bundle and hustled to the crushed import. The bundle was a tarp which they used to obscure the remains of the vehicle. The engine’s officer approached.
“Sir, Trooper Jackson said you’d be able to give me a rundown on this lady’s condition.” Jeff nodded and briefed the lieutenant on Donna’s injuries and what she’d told him about her legs. The fire officer nodded in return. “Sounds like we’ll need the Jaws to get her out; that’s gonna get pretty noisy, ma’am. Do you think your son will go with someone when we start working on the car?”
“Jeff, would you take care of him?”
“Of course, Donna. Is there anything in the car you use to keep him occupied?”
“There’s a bag in the back seat with some of his books.”
“LT, would we be able to sit in the back of the ambulance while I read to him?”
“No reason you can’t. We’ve got a few more units coming to help out, but that one won’t be leaving before they arrive. I’ll make sure Donna and her little man are together before she’s transported. Grab his car seat, too.”
Jeff smiled at Donna, then moved to the van’s sliding passenger door. Jeffrey looked at him with big eyes. “Hey, Jeffrey. The firemen need to use some tools to help get your Mommy out of the car. They’re going to be pretty loud, so she asked me if I’d bring you over to the ambulance and read some of your books to you. Does that sound okay?” Jeffrey nodded.
Jeff gathered up the boy’s books and placed them back in the bag they’d been in; the crash had scattered the contents across the back seat. He unbuckled the boy from his seat; he figured out how to remove the car seat next. He carried the boy over to the ambulance along with the bag and seat.
“Wow, Jeffrey, this is cool! Have you ever been in an ambulance before? No? Me, either! Why don’t you sit here on this bench? I’ll sit next to you. We won’t need your seat until they’re ready to go. Which book do you want to read first?” Jeff used different voices for the different characters in Jeffrey’s books; the little boy was soon laughing. Jeff kept him laughing by making funny faces as he read. Thirty minutes later the back doors to the ambulance opened. The crew held onto a wheeled stretcher; Donna lay on the stretcher, strapped to a long wooden board with her neck in some sort of brace. A thick bandage covered her left lower leg.
“Alright, Jeffrey, it looks like it’s time for an ambulance ride. I gotta get something from my truck; I’ll be right back.” One of the crew nodded to Jeff while he strapped Jeffrey’s seat to a captain’s chair in the back. Jeff jogged to his truck, retrieved two items, and jogged back. Jeffrey was back in his seat, ready to go, when he returned.
“Hey, little buddy, you take care. These folks are gonna take good care of you and your mom, okay?” Jeffrey nodded at his new friend. “These are for you, for being so brave. I’ll give this one to Mommy to hold for now, though; it’s got sharp points, and I don’t want them to poke you, okay?” Jeffrey nodded again, holding his arms out for a hug.
“Donna, these are what I’m giving to Jeffrey, if it’s okay with you?” Jeff showed her an 82nd Airborne patch and jump wings with a bronze combat jump star. “The pin is what has sharp points; I’ll pin it on his bag.”
Donna nodded despite the brace on her neck. She reached for his hand. “Thank you,” she said, tears leaking from her eyes.
“Of course, Donna. You and Jeffrey take care.” Jeff stepped out of the ambulance and watched it pull away. A trooper approached.
“Mr. Knox? I’m Trooper Ferris, OSHP Crash Reconstruction.”
“How are you, sir?”
“Mr. Knox, would you tell me what you saw?”