Ateneo De Naga high school 1980

Those who do not remember history are bound to live through it again.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Roadside Decisions

I am almost certain that all of us have witnessed a road accident or disaster during our lifetime. We might not have witnessed the unfortunate incident the moment it occurred but we came to the scene a few seconds or minutes after it happened.

I had witnessed several road accidents during the course of my life and each time it happened, I noticed that there are three types of people that are always present. The first type is the curious people who would just look on but would not get involve in the rescue and care of the victims. They are commonly called “Osyoseros” because they view accidents as exciting events and an opportunity to have a story to tell to his/her friends. The second type are those who would help but would limit their efforts basing on their comfort level and safety. After they witnessed the blood and gore on the accident scene, they are gross out and would immediately withdraw. The third type are the heroic ones who would put themselves in harms way to extract the injured person or people inside the car with care before the whole vehicle is consumed by flames.

The reason why I choose this topic today is because I would like to tell you about an incident that happened at the desert of Nevada about two years ago. Jo Azcarraga, Toton Roque and I were in a car heading to Los Angeles with Jo behind the wheel of the car. Jo had a heavy right foot and so we flew about 80 to 90 miles an hour on the freeway heading south towards Los Angeles. The U.S. Federal Aviation administration should issue Jo Azcarraga a pilots’ license because his car always lifts off the ground whenever he drives.

I was seated on the front passenger side next to pilot Captain Azcarraga while Toton made himself comfortable on the back seat and stretched his legs. Ahead of our car were two semi-trailer trucks (18-wheelers). Behind the two semis were a light colored car and a black car (possibly a BMW or Lexus) that just overtook us. I had my eyes on the overpass that we were about to go under when I heard Jo blurted “Uy!”. In a split of a second, I snapped my focus on the road in front of us and I saw a maroon colored Ford SUV explorer jumped out from the left shoulder of the road pushing dirt and dust up in the air. The two semis slightly veered to the right and both the light color and black cars swerved to avoid the Ford explorer that cut across our lanes in a 45 degree angle. The explorer then drove up to an embankment and did a two-thirds roll to its right finally resting on its left side. The engine ignited briefly but the flame immediately stopped.

I asked Jo to pull over immediately. When our car stopped, I jumped out of the car holding my camera and I ran to where the explorer was. As I was approaching the explorer, there were four guys who were frantically trying to save the people inside the car. They pulled out the driver of the car and he had wounds on his left shoulder. One of the guys who was wearing a dark blue polo-shirt with a white name patch decided to run back to his vehicle and drove away because his wife, who was inside his vehicle, shouted at him telling him not to get involve in the rescue.

My heart stopped for a second when they pulled out a 1-year old boy who was crying. A light smoke was coming out from inside the car and there was this brave guy wearing a yellow shirt who was desperately trying to save two other occupants who were still inside the car. I continued to snap pictures. I heard the yellow-shirted guy shout in a pleading way, “Help me, please!” He was asking me to help him but I was too engrossed in taking pictures. Then I saw the bloody head of a man that had a large deep scrape and short pieces of flesh still hanging from the wound. An injured hand of an old woman also appeared on the rear window. I immediately dropped my camera and went to the rear of the car. The smell of burning rubber and plastic was strong and I helped the old woman out of the car through the rear hatch window that was smashed by another guy to let the smoke out of the vehicle.

I surveyed the scene and concluded that the car was traveling north bound on a 2-way lane located some 30 meters to our left. The driver could have fallen asleep behind the wheel or just lost control of his vehicle and so it went to the open dirt area separating the north and south bound lanes and ended up cutting across the south bound traffic.

Recently, I viewed the pictures that I took of that accident and asked myself the embarrassing question of why I was more interested in taking pictures of the accident instead of helping the victims inside the smoking car? When I asked Jo Azcarraga to pull over on that dusty freeway, I am ashamed to admit that the purpose why I ran towards the Ford explorer was because I wanted to capture a horrific moment with my camera. It did not immediately occur to me that there were four injured human beings inside that vehicle and one of them is a small child. The brave man who urgently asked me to help him save the old man and woman inside the car valued the lives of those people. What did I value? I valued a foolish opportunity to capture the moment on film! What was I thinking!? If I was in a tragedy, would I appreciate people with cameras snapping away around me capturing the seemingly “Kodak moment”? My actions on that nameless spot in the middle of the Nevada desert was totally unacceptable and did not reflect how an Atenean should respond during a crisis. Kung yaon duman si Fr. Juan bonafe SJ, tibaad sinermonan na ako kaidto.

A year and a half after the incident in the Nevada desert, I was driving my children home late one afternoon. We were east bound on a major side street and I saw a Toyota van that was on the west bound traffic that just stopped on a red light. Behind the Toyota van was a guy riding a shiny Harley Davidson motorcycle and following the Harley bike was a Nissan SUV. The female driver of the Nissan was blinded by the sunrays from the setting sun and so she did not see that both vehicles ahead of her had already stopped. She hit the Harley, who fell on its side, then she ran over the bike then hit the Toyota Van. When I saw the accident, I pulled over and ran across the road to the scene of the accident. When I got there, I saw the Harley bike resting on its left side and the rider was still on it. The left front wheel of the Nissan was on top of the Harley bike pinning the right foot of the rider. The rider’s left leg was also pinned underneath the bike. I removed the visor of the rider’s helmet and saw the eyes of the rider were staring straight ahead and not blinking. This could only mean that the rider is in shock. The fuel line of the Nissan suddenly burst and half a gallon of fuel immediately poured underneath the vehicle.

A crowd started to gather around the accident. Fearing that the leaking fuel could ignite at any moment, I ran on the side of the Nissan and tried to lift the vehicle but it was too heavy. I saw a couple of people trying to pull the Harley rider off of the vehicle but I shouted at them not to pull the injured rider because his foot is still pinned underneath the wheel of the Nissan. I asked the bystanders nearby to help me lift the Nissan off of the Harley. Several guys volunteered and we all lifted the Nissan. I went back to the fallen rider and asked him if he is ok. He whispered that he can’t breathe. I took off his tie and unbutton the collar of his shirt. He then said that he cannot feel his right leg. I stopped for two seconds and looked at his right leg and knew that something is terribly wrong with it because we just lifted the front left wheel of the Nissan SUV from it.

Do you know what I found quite strange while I was down on the ground helping the fallen biker? There were a number of people who came behind me and told me to stop helping the injured biker because my involvement to the care of this biker can lead me to become legally liable to his injuries. I don’t know why I did not simply walk away. For a brief moment of about three seconds I remembered what I did in the desert of Nevada a year and a half earlier where I did not help in rescuing the injured members of that family inside their burning SUV.

I continue to wonder how I would react in the future when I witness another road disaster. Would I hesitate and look around to find out if there are others who are willing to do the deed of helping the injured? Would my mind freeze my fears to the possibility that I could get injured while helping another person? What decision would I make? I can only pray to my Creator to give me the courage to do the right thing on the very moment when another human being is faced with danger and I happen to be within helping distance.

Hoping to make the right decision.


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