It was around 2:00 am; the time when the bars close and the drunks wander to their resting place for the night.. Since it wasn't "ladies' night" and the middle of the work week, I didn't expect many drunks, which was good. I was parked on the shoulder to check a location and catch up on some paperwork.
We were building "mow strips" around the posts on guardrail. This involved excavating the dirt, placing forms, placing reinforcement steel and pouring 4 inches of concrete. The end result was a section of the highway that didn't require hand trimming. In the long run, pouring the concrete was cheaper than paying the crew to keep the grass cut.
We'd prepare a section for concrete overnight and pour as soon as we were allowed to close the highway the next evening. Work hours were 8:00 pm to 4:00 am, so to prevent the expense of keeping the concrete plant open for a special pour, we'd only pay a little more for the concrete and avoid the thousands of dollars required for the equipment and crew.
It was a quiet night. After 10:00 pm, the traffic had really settled down. An occasional car would pass down the inside lane we left open. The outside lane was closed for our equipment and trucks. I'd dropped back to check a finished location, so the setup, and crew, were about a half mile ahead. It was getting to the point they would start winding things up, so there wasn't any need for me to stay on location and supervise.
The location I was checking was perfect for stopping and doing my reports. The area between the main lanes and service road was dry and I could park behind the guardrail. Years of highway work taught me to keep something between me and the traffic; guardrail was best.
The highway is loud. During peak times, the noise is around the 80 decibel range, which requires ear protection.You don't realize the effect it can have, until you find how irritated you've become over time. Constantly raising your voice and the cacophony of organized chaos eventually grates your nerves to where they're raw.
It became very quiet. This, when you're on the highway, can be as unnerving as the noise. Absolutely no traffic may mean there's a wreck stopping the traffic. Since the crew was down the road, I knew it wasn't due to our activities, but I still stopped to pay attention.
In the distance, I could hear the engine on the light tower by the crew. After about a minute, I stared having the feeling that something was wrong. Light traffic is understandable, but no traffic is disconcerting. I kept listening, and finally heard the sound of approaching cars. Looking in my rear view mirror, I saw two cars almost pacing each other as they crested an overpass about a quarter mile away. With my thoughts now settled, I went back to my paperwork.
I glanced again in the rear view mirror and saw the two cars still pacing each other. This pushed my "what a bunch of dumbasses" button. If you don't have to, you don't pace a car. A blowout, or weave can cause a wreck. Even worse, if a drunk is driving the wrong way on a four lane divided highway, the inside lane is where they usually drive. If you're in the outside lane, your chances are better on not having a head-on collision. Pacing a car gives you nowhere to go.
I looked down at my paperwork and heard the thump, followed by the sound of grinding metal and tinkling of glass being scattered on the pavement. As soon as I looked up, an early 90's Firebird tore through the guardrail about 50 feet in front of my pickup. The tail end was first and it came to a rest about 20 feet after passing through the guardrail. Immediately, the passenger door opened and all I saw were elbows and the bottom of shoes. The man was in a sprint towards the neighborhood on the other side of the service road. The driver was sitting with a stunned look on his face.
As my mind was registering the scene, a blood curdling scream shattered the calm. Looking across the highway, I saw the other car in the wreck. I bailed from my pickup and ran across the highway, expecting to find mayhem. Since there was no damage on the passenger side of the car, I was dreading finding some woman with an arm torn off from the impact between the two cars. I figured she was driving with her arm resting on the window seal and the impact removed her left arm.
I ran around the car to find the woman sitting in the drivers seat, her cell phone in her right hand and her left hand gesturing wildly as she loudly talked to someone on her phone. I asked if she was okay. It took a few moments, but she said she was.
I crossed the highway and called 911. The operator told me the accident had been reported. I'm guessing it was the woman. Why she was screaming still baffles me. I'm guessing she was scared; I know I was.
The driver of the Firebird was now out of his car surveying the damage. He looked rattled, or drunk. I asked if he was okay. He was, but I could tell his once prized car was now a few hundred dollars worth of scrap. He didn't have anything to say, so we quietly waited for the patrol cars that arrived within a minute.
I stayed at a distance from the officers. They questioned the drivers of the vehicles and didn't have any questions after I told them I only heard the wreck. After a few more minutes, a wrecker arrived. The cops finished their questions, the woman drove away in her damaged car and the officers handcuffed the driver of the Firebird. After placing him in the backseat of one of the patrol cars, the car left, leaving the other officer and the wrecker. It didn't take long for the wrecker to pull the Firebird onto the back deck. He left, the officer left and I stood in front of my pickup sorting through my thoughts about the last 30 minutes.
I'd picked the spot on the shoulder because I thought it would be a nice quiet place to write reports with minimum distractions. Man, was I wrong. Only two cars on the highway - going in the same direction - and they manged to wreck. To make matters worse, the supposed safe spot was only safe because they waited a few moments to wreck. Fifty feet earlier and I'd been t-boned by the Firebird.
I had a few extra cones in the back of my truck. I threw them out to mark the twisted guardrail and left the scene. I finished my paperwork at the office.