I couldn’t find my stocking cap. That’s how it all started. Though looking back on that day, I can see that isn’t what stands out. The weird thing is, I was only an observer to everything that happened afterward. But nothing would ever be the same for me again.
December 6, 2007. I’d rushed home from my job as a department manager at Walmart. I’d been there 11 years and, at 37, planned on retiring there. For a guy who never went to college, I felt lucky to have a good-paying job and wanted to hang on to it. I’d always made the safe choice in everything I did. All this talk about God having a plan. I wasn’t sure about that—at least for me. Better not to take chances.
The roads were starting to ice up. I was going out again to work on our church float for the Christmas parade. But where was my cap? Ah, yes, there it was, tossed in the closet. It would be getting dark soon. I gave my wife, Melissa, a kiss and headed out the door.
Traffic was busy on Highway 63. A quarter-mile ahead was a bridge that spans Indian Creek. Suddenly everything came to a halt. I edged forward. Just before the bridge, I saw it. A sheriff’s deputy’s Crown Vic on the right side of the road. Crumpled. A few feet away was a full-size pickup. Damaged but not as badly. Must have been a horrible impact. The icy bridge.
I parked on the nearest crossroad and ran to the patrol car. I peered through the driver’s side window. Two officers in front, a guy behind the wheel and a woman in the passenger seat. Two prisoners in the back, a woman and a man. All unconscious. A grisly scene. I felt sick. Worse, I felt helpless.
A woman came up. “I’m a nurse,” she said.
Thank God! “What do we do?” I asked her.
“There’s not much we can do. We don’t have the equipment,” she said. “I called 911.”
I turned to the car. The driver was moving. “Stay still,” I said, trying to keep my voice calm and firm. “Help is coming.” I wasn’t sure he heard me, but he didn’t budge. “It’s going to be okay.”
I went to the pickup truck. The driver and his young son were conscious but in shock. “Stay still,” I repeated. By then, the paramedics had arrived. They used the Jaws of Life to open the patrol car. They removed the victims with such skill and were so cool under pressure. Then everyone was on the way to the hospital. I said a prayer for the trauma team. Their work was just beginning. Yet I felt strangely numb. No, helpless. I wondered if anyone in the patrol car would survive.
It was too late to continue on to church, so I got back in my car and headed home. When I came through the door, Melissa looked startled. “Are you okay?” she asked.
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