Sunday, March 6, 2016

It Was An Accident: Part 8 – Not Really an Accident, But Scary

I don’t have any more real accidents to write about, but this story is about an incident that could very well have ended in the most serious accident I’d ever been in.

Back in 1975 and 1976 I spent my time alternating college semesters taking classes and being a cooperative student. I was the most cooperative student you’d ever seen. I’d do anything for money. Well, not really. The cooperative (co-op for short) program was where students would spend time working in a real job while still in school in order to gain real world experience before graduating and starting to work full time. It was like being an intern. I had co-oped here in the Shoals for a total of three semesters. At the end of my final co-op period, which was at the end of 1976, I was ready to return home to Louisville, KY. My parents had been visiting family for Christmas about 70 miles away, so came over to help me carry all my stuff back.

It was New Year’s Eve, and there had recently been a big snow in the area. However, all the roads were clear and it was a sunny day, so it seemed to be a perfect time to drive home. We were driving east on US 72, with my dad in the lead, approaching Second Creek. Those of you familiar with this location will know that there is a rather steep downwards hill to the creek.

Dad had just crested the top of the hill before heading downwards when I saw his brake lights come on. Just as I was about to tap my brakes I crested the hill and saw a state trooper car at the bottom of the hill in the median with its lights blinking. I immediately assumed there was an accident ahead. I put my foot on the brake pedal and within a second or two I found myself spinning. The whole car was rotating as it slid down the hill. I was so disoriented, I didn’t really comprehend what was happening until later.

My dad later told me that he saw me in his rearview mirror and said to my mom, “Well, would you look at Randy spinning down the hill.” My mom turned around to look and then became hysterical. Dad told me that I spun around at least six times.

Well, as you might have guessed, there was ice on the road. The downhill slope was in the shade, so the sun had not been able to melt it away. Fortunately my dad noticed the ice just before he ran over it and let his foot off the brake. I was not so fortunate. With the combination of seeing my dad’s brake lights and the state trooper’s lights, I had run over the ice before I noticed it.

Anyway, after six-plus spins down the hill, I came to a stop. Surprisingly, I was still in my own lane, but facing backwards. I saw another vehicle heading down the hill in the other lane and at first was concerned that he would lose control and run into me. But he didn’t. He kept a steady pace and passed me by safely.

After just sitting there for a while attempting to recover from my dizziness, I slowly proceeded to turn the car around and head on down the rest of the hill. As it turned out, there was no accident at the bottom as I had suspected. The state trooper had his car in the median with the lights blinking. The trooper himself was leaning against his car with his hat and sunglasses on. I felt a bit embarrassed by what had happened to me, so I rolled my window down and said to the trooper as I passed him, “It’s kinda rough through here.”

The trooper didn’t respond in any way. He just stood there staring at me with no change in his facial expression, which was stone-faced. Even though I couldn’t see his eyes behind the sunglasses, I could feel his stare shooting through me. I just rolled my window up and kept driving. Dad had stopped on the land bridge over the creek and was waiting. I pulled up beside him and we quickly discussed whether or not we should try to make it all the way to Louisville since some of the roads were obviously not clear of ice yet. We decided to drive over to an aunt and uncle’s house and spend the night instead. The next day, New Year’s Day, we made our way safely on to Louisville.

For the next few days, I thought about this incident often. I was amazed that my car had stayed in its own lane while spinning down the hill rather than sliding off the road. However that happened, I was thankful. But then I began to wonder why the state trooper had been at the bottom of the hill with his emergency lights blinking when there was no accident. I originally thought he was there to warn other drivers of the ice on the road, but then realized that that made no sense. It would have been better for him to station himself at the top of the hill so as to slow down traffic before getting to the ice. When I realized this, I began to get a bit angry at the trooper. But then I realized that perhaps he had slid down the hill as well and had ended up in the median and was waiting for assistance when I showed up. I like to give people the benefit of a doubt, so I’ll go with that scenario.

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