I hate accidents.  And I hate that we all want to stare.  Not that I’m not guilty of staring myself, but I just don’t understand the sick pleasure we get from seeing crumpled cars and knowing someone was injured or worse.  That could be your mom, dad, sister or brother.  That could be you.

Maybe we stare because it’s a reminder of how short and precious life is.  Maybe after seeing something like that we go home and hug our kids, tell our spouses we love them and vow to be more careful when driving.  After what I saw and later almost did this weekend, I’m definitely going to be more careful, particularly on my own street.

We were just driving from one end of our neighborhood to the other after a friend’s barbecue.  We’d gotten to the intersection we live off of and turned the corner into unusually slow-moving traffic.  I remember hearing my husband say “Woah, what is this?” before the street opened up and we saw a small crowd of people in front of a car, with an unconscious person lying on the ground.  Greg immediately pulled the car over and started dialing 9-1-1. 

A part of me wanted to just drive by.  I could see someone at the scene on their cell phone.  I wanted to forget what I’d seen.  But what I saw wasn’t as bad as what I heard.  Someone was in agony.  Either the driver of the car who hit the pedestrian or a loved one of the person down was sobbing and screaming “Oh my G-d!  Call 9-1-1!  Oh no!”  But it wasn’t the words that freaked me out.  It was the panicked tone.  The utter helplessness and distress. 

My heart was breaking and I knew I could do nothing but wait for Greg to get through on 9-1-1 – side note:  I get that not every emergency can be handled at once, and I understand that sometimes too many people are calling 9-1-1 for the same emergency, but doesn’t it seem wrong that you can get told from 9-1-1 “all operators are busy”??? 

Once the call went through we decided to get out of the road and go home.  Before we made it to our front door, we heard the sirens, but the damage was already done.  I was spooked and shaking and all I wanted to know, all I still want to know is that that person is okay.  But without a lot more investigative work (trust me, I already tried to find a news article and came up short, though it gives me some hope this accident didn’t turn up on the L.A. Times Labor Day Traffic Fatalities List), I’m sure I’ll never find out and I’m really kind of haunted by that.  I guess I’m glad I didn’t see the accident actually happen, but we were seconds from it.  And all I can think of are the phone calls the victim’s family and friends got.  The horrific guilt of the driver, who may not have even been at fault if the pedestrian ran across the street, as often happens in our neighborhood.  How many lives are affected by split-second decisions.

I could have been that driver this morning.  At the very same intersection, I inched forward at a red light, waiting to turn right.  No traffic from my left, so I let off the gas to turn.  Without checking right.  Where two people on bicycles were crossing inches in front of me.  

I slammed on the break but the first bicyclist screamed at me in anger and fear and I 100% deserved it.  I didn’t touch either biker through some miracle, and if I had, it may have done no more damage than to their bikes.  But I would have had to live with that.  My legs shook as I drove away.  I can’t believe I didn’t look back right.  I shouldn’t have been out in the crosswalk with my car.  I came this close to possibly injuring two people.  I’m never ever EVER doing that again.  I have no defense.  Though there is almost never someone crossing the street there when I drive to work around 7 am, it’s no excuse.  And to those people I almost hit, I am so incredibly sorry and ashamed.

There was a death on my street a year or two ago.  Some guy sped down our street in the middle of the night, likely drunk, and ended his life by crashing into several parked cars and a tree.  His car was damaged so badly that the next morning it was unidentifiable as a vehicle.  I knew instantly when I saw all the cops and the blocked off street that someone had died.  You come to learn that they don’t usually block off entire streets and investigate for hours afterwards unless there was a fatality.  The cross nailed to the tree this man hit is a constant reminder that someone’s final moments were on the street where I walk my dog, twice every day.

My street scares me sometimes.

And on that note, be extra-careful drivers, but also be aware and respectful as a pedestrian.  If you know you’re walking past blind driveways, peek out and listen before crossing in front of them – I’ve almost been hit that way before.  Don’t run out in the middle of the street at night because chances are that your clothes are dark and no one will see you.  Use crosswalks whenever possible, and even so, look around and be sure the drivers notice you.  We’ve all had moments as drivers where we’ve been so lost in thought we’ve missed exits, red lights and even people in our path.  So it’s just as important to be aware and alert when driving as it is when walking. 

Please everyone, stay safe.