These are the thoughts of a Texas transplant in West Michigan who makes his living as a newspaper reporter by evening, and a struggling novelist by day.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

drained

tuesday's shift started off as most do, nothing unusual, working on centerpiece things and making phone calls for other stories. the evening was going as planned.

then it all changed and ot for the better.

very quickly, the scanner went off, signalling a one-car crash in park township. no big deeal yet. wait for priority. then the call for aeromed came on and it meant a priority one patient.

so i put my other stuff aside and made it to the scene. nate drove me and we made it past the oncoming roadblock of a fire truck by seconds. we parked and saw the vehicle involved. it was near a treee in someone's yard near an intersection.

i thought it was odd that the chopper hadn't landed yet. they are pretty quick. the only landing spot, short of setting down on the street, was a nearby blueberry field.

i realized the reason for the lack of a chopper is that there was a fatality. surely it was the person in the red car that stood near the tree smashed up and not the jeep with front-end damage stopped on the edge of the road.

lights were flashing, people were talking, rain drops fell, and the roar of the fire trucks was loud. a kid was crying, probably someone from the jeep. he was being reassured.

i made my way to the yard around the yellow taped-off area, near the red car. this young girl, no more than 12, said she knew who was involved and said she's seen it was a woman dead in the car. i cirnged, thinking that there was no need for a girl of that age to be "hanging around" a ghastly scene like that.

the same girl pointed out matter of factly that the police had pulled back the sheet to examine the woman and failed to put it back properly over the body. there were fingers sticking out of the side of the white sheet.

and yes, i could see, barely, the fingers protruding from the sheet. later, i'd see them close up in a photo taken by our photographer while he enlarged the picture on the computer monitor.

i made my way back and forth on the scene, no one saw the crash or arrived shortly afterward. one man commented by refused to go on the record.

eventually a sheriff's official came over and gave me preliminary info. that gave me enough to leave the scene and go back to the office, hoping they'd have it on the cop line later.

sure enough, they did. the explanation was the jeep was in front and was attempting a left-hand turn at the intersection. the red car attempted to pass it (on the left) and the jeep and car made contact, sending the car, on its side, sliding into the tree, where it wrapped around it, bending it, then falling back on the ground on its tires.

it was a bad crash. had the tree not been there would she have lived? would the ar eventually have stopped and simply flipped over on the front lawn? was the woman in the red car in a hurry to get home or was she off to somewhere? how quickly did the jeep turn? none of these questions can i answer.

i can say that after looking in the phone book, the dead woman lived on the street she died on, but i don't know if it was to the east or west of the crash.

i think of those lifeless fingers exposed from the edgeof the white sheet. they will no longer be able to wrap themselves around other fingers from a loved one, caress a grandchild, point out something funny, write a note of humor or love to someone close to her. they will no longer be able to do anything.

and so the remainder of the shift was spent finishing up other things, writing the story, getting the name of the woman in at the last moment with corrected, up-to-date information and proofing pages.

i've been to a handful of crashes (the most notable a motorcyclist skidding off his bike and striking a tree, his body lying on the street, covered under a whitesheet for hours while the investigaton went on), but it's still draining after they are done, knowing a life is gone and you were there shortly after it happened.

it's draining.