This is my annual repost of my entry from December 24, 2001, from my time as a street cop. I am reposting it because I want people to read it. (I had planned on reposting it on Christmas Eve but was distracted by other things, like being sick.)
Please please please don’t drink and drive.
We were on a minor “keep the peace” call when the 5-car accident was put out on the radio. It was on a state highway which meant that the State Troopers would handle the report, but Troop is notoriously short-staffed and we always go out to help on large accidents like that.
Ambulances were already leaving the scene by the time we pulled up. It was nothing but a maelstrom of flashing lights and twisted metal with still more ambulances loading victims and the sound of generators and jaws of life screaming over shouted voices. It was not five cars on top of each other, but one here, two there and then another two over there. We parked where we could and ran up, past a smashed Mercedes and up to the first of the fire engines. I found the trooper–a friend of mine–and he already had the tight, controlled look on his normally smiling face that told me that this was a bad scene. I asked him what he needed us to do. “Find witnesses,” he told me. “And then see if you can get registration and insurance info out of the cars.” He walked quickly with me past a crumpled truck in the ditch that had already been ripped apart by the extrication devices, toward the other end of the scene where two cars rested at crazy angles to the road. “But don’t go in that one just yet,” he said, gesturing at a yellow Nissan. “That’s where the F is.” I looked over at the car and only now noticed the blue emergency blanket draped over the passenger seat, and looking closer I could see part of a knee protruding from beneath it. “That the only one?” I asked. “So far,” he replied. He looked around slowly. “Can you say… Clusterfuck?”
We had to close the highway and other units arrived to help with traffic control. I was glad to be on the inside of the scene and not having to deal with the stupid people who could not understand why we were inconveniencing them and making them take an extra ten minutes to drive around. How could we be so thoughtless! I saw a woman in a long black coat walking up, a terrible fear on her face as she looked to a small silver car that lay next to the Nissan with the blue blanket. I walked up to her and asked her what she needed. “My daughter,” she barely managed to get out. “Was in one of the cars.” “Which car?” I asked. “The Honda.” I ran back to the paramedic to find out the condition of the victims from the silver car and was told that the girls were just being loaded up. I went back to the woman; she seized my hand as soon as I approached. Her hands were warm and I felt a silly sense of guilt because the temperature had dropped and my hands were freezing. “She’s hurt,” I told her. “She’s going to be fine. They’re about to transport her now. Come with me.” But all she could do for a moment was grip my arms tightly. “She’s going to be fine,” I repeated. Then she nodded quickly and wrapped her warm arm through mine and walked with me to the ambulance.
The last of the ambulances left and it grew a bit quieter with the extrication devices off. Now it was down to gathering information, taking pictures, and trying to determine just what happened. The trooper came up to me and asked me to see if I could find the bumper from the Mercedes, and after a brief search through mud and blood and scattered debris we found it, in pieces, further back on the road. The trooper came up and examined the trajectories and then looked at the gouge marks in the pavement. “Well, we know what happened now,” he said with a sigh. “Was it the drunk driver?” I asked. He nodded. “Motherfucker,” I said. He nodded.
The coroner arrived and we stood in a scattered quiet group around the Nissan as the blue blanket was pulled away. Now we could see the unnatural position of the body, the head thrown back, the arm with too many joints, the torso wedged far too tightly between the crushed-in door and the center console. We could see the school ID on the ground next to the car, and the youthful face that matched it. The coroner made her notes and the body was removed and zipped up inside the black bag on the ground.
The trooper touched me on the shoulder. “The family is at the hospital. We’re going to make notification. Will you stand by for the wreckers?”
I watched him drive off, not envying him one bit the task of having to tell a mother that her son was dead.
Merry fucking christmas.