Tuesday, July 27, 2010

If a tree falls in the forest

This is a story about how a car accident I was in a few days ago probably saved some lives.

Last Thursday at 5 p.m., at the beginning of rush hour, I was driving south on a section of Route 1 which is a four-lane highway (two northbound, two southbound). I was in the left southbound lane, stopped with my blinker on, waiting to make a left turn. In front of me was a Honda Civic, also stopped with its blinker on, also waiting for a break in the northbound traffic to make a left turn.

All of a sudden a Toyota Rav-4 slammed into the back of my car, pushing me into the Honda.

Luckily no one was hurt. The Toyota was seriously smashed (airbags, leaking radiator fluid, steam rising, front end demolished). The back of my car was heavily damaged, though my car (a mighty Subaru Legacy) was drivable. The Honda had a dent in the rear bumper.

I called 911 and police and a fire engine (just in case) were there in less than five minutes. The police stopped traffic in both directions. The couple in the Honda and I pulled our cars into the right lane, so an arriving tow truck could collect the Toyota. The man and woman from the Honda and I leaned on a guardrail at the side of the road, waiting for a police officer to finish with the Toyota driver and come talk to us.

Without warning, a tree behind us (on the other side of the guardrail) suddenly cracked at its base and fell, missing the guy beside me by inches and smashing into the Honda. It was large enough to shatter the rear window and heavily damage the roof and rear of the Honda.

We all jumped. "Damn, I've never seen anything like that before," the police officer said. I silently agreed. The Honda driving couple went ballistic.

A few minutes later the police officer finished with me and I drove home, rear bumper and bodywork flapping as I went. As I drove, I realized that if that tree had fallen as cars were going by at 50-60 mph there would have been a serious accident, almost certainly with people killed. It's easy for me to say this, since it wasn't my Honda the tree landed on, but a lot of people who don't even know it were lucky that day.

When I got home and called my insurance company to report the accident, the adjuster had this comment:

"I've processed a lot of claims. I thought I'd heard them all, but I've never heard a story like this." When the Toyota driver's insurance company called me to arrange for repairs, that adjuster told me the same thing.

Note to police officers: the next time someone tells you "that tree just jumped in front of me," it could be true.

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