Reflections on a Hit and Run accident I just experienced

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“What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.”

I’m taking a little break from the “series” for a little reflection.

It’s been a while since I have felt the feeling that our lives hang by a thread. I’m grateful to be alive, that I did not leave my family without me. I’ve read about high speed hit and run accidents. Never thought I’d be in one, in particular, in the backseat where a tall pickup with intimidating metal bumpers came careening into our sedan with enough force to crumple the entire trunk, shattering the back window into the cabin, pushing the license plate up against our backs, and lunging our car forward into more cars.

I’ve been dreaming about this all night, so I need to get this description out of my soul.

Three other groomsmen and I just witnessed the vows of the groom and bride in a very quant, quiet Sacramento neighborhood, and we were on our way to the State Capital to take pictures. Not a few minutes into our ride to take pictures, out of nowhere, a HUGE shock, a jolt hit my back like I have never felt before, bringing with it, the shattering of the back window into the cabin, and probably a very fast mental blackout. It’s one of those surreal moments where you’re not sure you’re “all together.”

A couple of seconds into it, I knew we were severely rear-ended. Then I heard the most disturbing sound, the sound of screeching tires, a nightmarish sound. With the senses I could muster together, I discerned that the suspect was intentionally driving around us after causing a chain reaction of accidents, to get away. “This (a hit and run) can’t be happening to us!” I thought. A shot of anger at the suspect shot through my body, and sadness too, that such souls exist.

A few more seconds into it, I centered myself and my senses, feeling quite shocked, but discerning if my own body was ok. The smell of car fluids and burning began to quickly emanate through the air. The other groomsmen and I checked in with each other. All of us found our respective glasses (which all flew forward of course) and walked away from the crash with no serious injury. The best man had a sizable welt on his face, but no one broke any bones nor had any serious injury. The four of us, all meticulous dressed in our black suits and matching plum-colored ties, all stepped out into the sweltering 97-degree heat. Carefully running my hands around my neck, I was reminded that all our clothes were invisibly studded with the back window’s shattered glass. Shreds of glass were on my neck, hair, pockets, and every imaginable crevice; I moved and sat with some caution before I had a chance to clean up later. I thanked God we did not have any backward-facing babies and toddlers in our car who were also at the wedding.

Once the other groomsmen and I got out of the car, almost immediately, a swarm of neighbors surrounded us, and served us. In the midst of the accident, this was a highlight for me.

God’s Kingdom came to the accident scene through the neighborhood people

So many neighbors played so many important roles. It was as if they’d been preparing for disaster relief their whole lives. One neighbor immediately began to check out all the groomsmen with “first responder” kind of questions initially asking each one of us “What’s today’s date? The approximate time?” and more. I believe he told me he was some kind of 1st responder in the service. Others brought us water and basically anything else we needed. One man even took finger samples of the car fluids leaking, smelling them, to assure that none of it was gasoline from a tank rupture. So thoughtful and amazing. Still others, almost immediately, shirtless and all, started directing traffic on the now single-lane residential street with backed up traffic on both sides. Because we were the first car hit in a chain reaction, the length of the scene was perhaps 1/2 to 3/4 length of a football field. And at least a couple of neighbors, without the use of radios, were successfully single-tracking traffic through the accident scene through a coordinated effort of hand and voice signals. The drivers trusted that these shirtless traffic volunteers would not lead them into head-on collisions. You can see one of the “traffic coordinators” in the picture above directing traffic around us. It all seemed so well-rehearsed, like they had done this in their past lives. Surely, such a cross section of people in that hood come from a variety of world views, perhaps a mix of people from agnostic, theist, and mystical backgrounds and more. Yet to me, I believe since God breathed his beautiful image into all mankind, what I was witnessing was such a beautiful picture of people at their best.

And I wondered, what kind of American neighborhoods can this happen in? What kind of social-economic lines and kinds of neighborhoods would be able to circumscribe such amazing coordinated service, without prior planning? I suspect this kind of effort could not have happened in communities where homes are greatly recessed in from the driveway, typically found in affluent neighborhoods. But I could also imagine densely packed neighborhoods where this would not have happened. But the picture of coordinated help among neighbors happened here. But even more amazing…

This whole time, the police had not yet shown, and amidst all the feelings and shock I was experiencing, I was still wondering about the suspect. Perhaps 20 minutes into the scene, I was told that the suspect was caught by yet another group of neighbors around the corner. And this news brought me some comfort. Details are sketchy here (I’ve not yet consulted the police report yet to write this), but I was told by several that the suspect hit several more cars around the corner. One such neighbor used his own vehicle to block the suspect’s car causing the suspect to run up the curb, hit something and stop. I’m usually fairly rational, but I take my usual keen sense of time loosely here, but seemed like at least 30 minutes before police showed up to secure the suspect into the back of a squad car. The police apologized for the slowness of response; most of them were called to another corner of the city. So I know it was a while. It’s amazing to me that neighbors were able to secure the suspect before the police came for that length of time.

By then, the paramedics and fire department came. By God’s grace, we all checked out fine with the paramedics. Altogether, this whole scene was a picture of God’s Kingdom to me. It was diverse humanity coming together for bigger purposes to love and serve each other.

A touch of redemption:
I talked with the suspect’s mother who showed up later on the scene. I did not know what to expect, but I went to meet her, a woman perhaps in her late 50’s. Close by to us sat the police car which held her son, the suspect. I don’t remember our conversation, but I do remember her ethos. She was very downtrodden, remorseful. She asked me if I had children. And when she learned that two of the groomsmen in the car had children, I saw what I thought was a painful grip on her soul. It seemed like just the threat of our respective families losing their daddies caused her grief.

Then she asked me how old our kids were. Then I witnessed another shot of grief shoot up her soul. It’s almost as if she was using the accident to process her own grief with her own son. I was surprised by her reaction. I assured her I have no ill feelings towards her. I of course have no idea how she raised her son, but I sympathized with her. Cause the Lord knows that in spite of my own (along with my wife) efforts to parent our own son, our son has hit other kids, once causing a bloody eye (to which I offered to pay the medical deductible for the other kid, etc.) I feel I’ve been in similar shoes before. I think she received my sympathies even though her very son was the suspect. It was an odd, but somewhat sweet moment.

A bit of reflection:
I loved being a part of this wedding, a tremendous honor. The groom is a 2-decades old friend whose life represents the utmost in integrity and loyalty. I’ve learned tons about how to be a better human through him.

I’m saddened that we never got to take the wedding party pictures. Even at the ceremony, I don’t think we posed for even one wedding party picture. That was our destination to come, but never came. I suspect there were smartphone pictures. Nevertheless, the wedding day plans took a tremendous detour. The groom was very present on the accident scene ministering to his groomsmen who just got hit. Thank you Sal for being there, for all of us. We all know you and your new bride carried some burden for what just happened. This was a HUGE wrench in wedding day plans. We all know weddings never go “perfectly” but who would have imagined such a huge “wrench?”

I’m joyous I got to be there for the wedding, for the exchanging of vows. And though I had to miss the reception, I’m so glad I got to be there for the most important part, the ceremony and the exchanging of vows. I don’t take that for granted.

The accident has caused me to yearn for heaven in a subtly new way. Because of family health issues that last few years, I’ve missed a lot of weddings, the joining of loved ones, the celebrations and more of people who have shared lives with us. This wedding was our first trip of ANY kind across the new reconstructred Bay Bridge. And even in this wedding, at the ceremony, I kept saying “see you at the reception!” to people I’ve not seen in 15 years. I just ASSUMED we’d be at the reception. But we never made it to the reception, never got to cap off the wedding through reunion, celebration, dance, pictures, cake, etc. As with many things as of late (like leaving Epic Movement without a physical goodbye), I’ll have to wait till heaven where we can all celebrate. All the yearnings and things “unfulfilled” these past few years especially, will be fulfilled in heaven.

My wife, a trooper, has modeled this brand of “yearning for heaven” to me these past few years because of her chronic illness. She’s been yearning for heaven and hope fulfilled in quite the intricate way. It’s been somewhat a struggle for me to step into that that journey with my “able-bodied” self. Empathy is something I’ve been working on for years. The gift of my wife and my son’s limitations has pushed this quest further than I could have ever imagined.  I’m hoping this past accident draws me further into this journey of surrender…not of nothingness and denial as some world views teach, but into hope fulfilled in the life to come. And I pray this event further strengthens my ability to empathize.

A dash of theology here: I believe the Bible teaches this “heaven” will be felt in a “non-other-worldly” kind of way. In other words, the pent-up longings, everything felt “unfulfilled” in this life, will be resolved in the life to come…but the great part is, I don’t believe that subsequent life will be felt as if it will be “some great distance” away. The Word intentionally paints pictures of a new City that will be coming down. Furthermore, this new Kingdom is already breaking in. Yesterday, the day of the accident was witness to that. I realize I might have just opened up an eschatological pandora’s box for some…but that’s ok. All i’m saying is, I’m drawn into the “presentness” of the life to come, a life to fulfill every relational hole that’s been missing.

God knew this hit and run was going to happen. I don’t want to get into a “why does God allow evil things to happen” debate. There’s brokenness in this world. There’s a natural “downward spiral” from Rom 1 wherein God gives people over to themselves. So I’m not reading into this accident any more than what I’ve described here. People make bad choices. Yet God can intervene at any time to thwart natural forces. As a trained engineer and Bible expositor, I am not calling this a “miracle” – the fact that no one got hurt. But I do know there are fallen people, and I do know there are angels. But more than that, I do know nothing happens outside of God’s omniscience nor omnipotence. Yesterday was an example of that. He knew every aspect and was ever-present in that moment.

To cap things off, I’m grateful for many things, to be alive with my family, that it’s “not my time” yet. I’m grateful to share in joyous occasions like the wedding yesterday, to have great friends…to not have been in my own car (a Honda Fit which has no trunk) when rear ended at some 30-40 mph. I’m grateful for that fabulous neighborhood in Sacramento. I’m grateful the gas tank did not rupture, which i believe sits under the back seat for that model car. The back seats became dislodged from the rear of the car; the gas tank beneath us held together, sitting inches in front of the crumpled mess that was the trunk. Grateful for Honda crumple zones, safety glass, and engineering. But most of all, I’m grateful God numbers each of our days. Nothing can thwart that.

Looking up my police report, I briefed the reports of so many other accidents this past weekend involving fatalities. I read the reports of the UCSB massacre, watch the video of the suspect, and just feeling so humbled…and feeling for all the victim’s families…knowing that could have been me, or anyone of us for that matter.  I’m reminded that “you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” Jas 4:14–16.

May God bless that neighborhood that stepped up to help all the accident victims, not just us but the cars we hit in front of us too. May God somehow bless those neighbors in a practical way, to encourage them for giving up their afternoons in the sweltering heat to help us all. May God somehow touch that suspect amidst the impending hit-and-run sentence. May God give peace to the suspect’s mother and draw her to Him. May God use this most “unusual” memory of “things that can go wrong in a wedding” as a positive foundation stone in Sal and Marilyn’s new life together. And if you’re reading this and always dreamt of a “perfect wedding,” take heed, and behold the love and power of God.

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2 thoughts on “Reflections on a Hit and Run accident I just experienced

  1. It was an honor meeting you and I am happy to hear you and your family made it home safely. Wonderful piece, Pamela and I appreciate that everything worked out and we hope you and your family are healing and healthy. Best wishes, Ben

  2. Thank you for sharing this, Steve! It’s inspiring to see you take such a positive outlook on such an unfortunate event. It was nice meeting you at Sal & Marilyn’s wedding! If only we could have worked together a bit longer, but God had other plans. Best wishes to you and your family!

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