After getting all the kids home from music lessons at 5:30 pm, I made a quick dinner for them, gave them babysitting instructions, and then headed back into Madison (alone) at 6:30 pm to meet Joe to go to a talk sponsored by our diocese.
I had not been watching the weather or listening to the news, so I had no idea that the temperature had dropped since we'd come home from music lessons and that the roads had iced up. I was driving the speed limit, unaware that I was about to encounter a very icy road.
I turned on to Storytown Road, and I was going along fine, when all of a sudden, on a perfectly straight stretch of road, I started sliding sideways. I corrected (or thought I did), and for a split second, thought I was going to be alright. Then I had to correct again and again. I feel like I corrected four or more times before I realized that I was headed for the ditch at a very good clip. What happened next is a big jumble in more ways than one, but I know I hit the side of the ditch (which was actually a berm leading up to the field) more than once -- first head on, then again with the rear of the van when I spun, then the van rolled onto its side, and that's when it finally came to a stop. I originally thought I'd flipped the van, but in retrospect, I think it was just hard impacts of the front and rear fenders and then the roll. It's all kind of a blur, but I'll never forget those impacts.
Thankfully, no one else was in the van, and no one else was on the road at the time. But that meant that it was just me, hanging way up there from my seat belt -- now that the driver's side was in the air. I think I was stunned that I was okay when the van came to a stop, but I now I needed to figure out how to get out of the vehicle. While still hanging in my seat belt, I surveyed the situation below me (the passenger side of the van), and although the passenger side window was shattered, I didn't see any big shards of glass that were going to cut me if I jumped down to "ground level" inside the van. So I swung my legs around that big hump that Ford Econolines have between the driver and passenger seat, released the seatbelt, and dropped safely to my feet onto the passenger window. Ta-da! I was out of my seat belt and standing in the rolled van.
Because I couldn't see out to the road very well, I couldn't easily tell how much of my van was still in the road, and I was concerned about other vehicles coming by and encountering the same ice. I had this extreme impulse to get out of the van and away from it, out of concern that I might be hit while loose in there. All the passenger side doors were against the ground -- unhelpful. The driver side door was above my head—I'm only 5'2", and the van is about 6' wide, I think. So that window was way up there. And the rear doors, from what I could tell, were pushed up against the berm on the far side of the ditch and did not look like a likely escape route.
Just as I was reaching above my head to the open window above me (I have no recollection of opening that window!), I heard a vehicle coming by. It seemed hard to hear road noises, but I was pretty sure someone had stopped. I started waving my hand through the opening of the window above my head, and I heard a man yelling, "Is anyone in there?" He seemed very surprised when he came around and looked through the front windshield and saw me standing inside the tipped van. He asked if I was okay, and I told him I was, but that I couldn't get out. I think he was not convinced that I was okay (or maybe he was just making sure, before he helped get me out), because I remember he asked again if I was okay, and I just repeated that I was fine and wanted to get out. I admit that I didn't even think about how hard it might be for him on the outside when I told him I was going to jump up and could he "please catch me." I reached up over my head, jumped, and pulled myself up to about waist level (serious adrenaline-charged strength!). I was then able to get my leg over the opening, and the good samaritan hauled me down from there. I was never so happy to be out of the van.
Another man had pulled up by then, asked if we had called 911 and—when he realized I was struggling to do so (my hands were shaking)—offered to make the call. Meanwhile, Matthew, the man who helped me out of the van, offered to let me sit in his car to get out of the very raw, sleety weather. I think I declined the offer at first (you know, I always teach the kids not to get in a car with a stranger). But I was having trouble even walking to the other side of the road, due to the icy road and my shaky legs. So by the time he asked again, I took him up on his kind offer. Meanwhile, he was busy scaling the van and hanging down, bent at the waist, through the open window to get my keys and purse. Totally unnecessary, but so appreciated. I called Joe who was almost at the Bishop O'Conner Center for the talk, and Matthew offered to stay with me until Joe arrived, bless his heart. I like to think of myself as a strong person, but I think I would have sat in the ditch and cried until Joe came if I'd been there all alone. I was really shaken up.
I listened as Matthew called his wife to tell her he'd be late for dinner because he was "helping a woman who was in a very bad car accident." It all seems surreal now.
I was so anxious for Joe to arrive. When Joe arrived, after giving me a big kiss and making sure I was alright, he took photos and checked out the van and the many yards of "evidence" of the accident. Although I did get back out at one point with the intention of surveying the damage, I never really went all the way over to that side of the road to check out the skid marks and the gashes in the ditch and on the hill. I guess I didn't want to re-live the accident at that time. But Joe checked it all out, and he thinks he has it all pieced together, based on the gashes he found on the ground and in the ditch and hill. Here's what Joe says:
It looks like you dipped into the ditch three times:
The first time, you were still south of the big berm. The right-fronttire cut into the dirt, swerved left, but never came back into the road.(At that point, the back of the van had swerved right, but was alreadycoming back some).
The second time, you hit the berm hard. This impact was very hard -knocked off the bottom, front bumper and literally forced the front ofthe van toward the road.
The third time, the berm was almost as tall as the van itself. At thatpoint, pretty much the whole van was in the ditch with the front wheelsturned left. That final impact stopped the front of the vehicle cold -the back wheels came off the ground and inertia carried them rightwardand upward, pivoting and flipping the van onto its passenger side.
You should bundle up and go check out the tire marks. It's writtenthere in the dirt just as plain as day. You can clearly see where thetires bit into the dirt and changed direction as you were trying to getthe van under control. Had the shoulder been flatter, you would havecome out of it fine. It was the berm that did you in.
The police arrived probably a half-hour after the accident. They apologized for the delay when they arrived and said that they were responding first to the multiple injury accidents all over the county, due to the icy conditions. One of the officers slid down the road as he arrived at the scene. (He didn't go in the ditch, so I guess his vehicle handles better than the big van. :)
When the wrecker and pull-truck arrived, so did one of Joe's clients—the owner of the towing service. Just before I got to meet him, he wiped out on the icy road and fell on his back-side. Poor guy! At least I wasn't the only one slipping last night. The tow company guys were so nice and helped us get the car seats out of the van and placed in the back of Joe's SUV.
When we left, I asked Matthew for his name. He told me he knows a good chiropractor if I need one -- turns out he's that chiropractor. A very good guy who helped me in a very frightening situation. I wish I had the name of the other man who called 911 and stayed with me until he was convinced I was okay. I am very grateful to those two men, to the officers who responded on the scene and closed the entire stretch of road for our safety, and to the many people who stopped to make sure I was okay after I'd been pulled out of the van. I spent part of today writing thank you notes to the good people who helped me so much last night.
We don't know yet if the van will be totaled, but we expect so. It was leaking fluid after the crash. The passenger-side window was blown out completely, and the passenger-side mirror is gone. the front windshield is shattered, but not blown out. It took a big hit, and so did I! We're hoping it can be salvaged though, because a new vehicle is definitely not in the budget.
Today, I am thanking God that the kids were not with me, there was no one else involved in the accident, and that I somehow came out of the whole thing unscathed. I am stiff and sore, but otherwise in remarkably good shape. Pretty amazing. I'm also very pleased it was a "no-fault" accident, so no ticket. :)
Neither Joe nor I had ever been in a serious accident until 18 months ago when Joe had his accident -- and now this. Here's hoping this is the abrupt end of accidents in our lifetimes.