Tuesday, October 13, 2015


it’s been two hours and my heart is still racing with adrenaline. I was driving north on I-81 when a few hundred yards ahead a kid in an old Hyundai came careening across the center grass median and slammed into a sedan in the fast lane.

I saw spray of steam and smoke coming from the kid’s car (I call him a kid because he had two big Kicker sub woofers in his back seat and a thin build). The other car was 100 feet down in the ditch on the right side of the northbound lane… Each car had to have been nearing 80 mph, with a total force of 150+mph when they hit each other.

I put on my flashers and hopped out of my car - grabbing my small first aid kit, and a two foot 3/8 driver extension I had in my trunk… Both items were not the tools for the job. The first aid kit had burn ointment and band aides, the socket extension bent like a boomerang when I tried to use it to pry open the driver’s door.

The kid was unconscious and sideways in his seat, with his back to the driver’s door, airbag deployed and seat slammed forward. His breathing was labored… then that stopped. I put my hand on his neck to check for a pulse.  I couldn’t feel any. THEN he took a deep labored breath. I could tell he was broken up inside. No blood anywhere.

I stroked the side of his neck where I felt for a pulse, then lightly patted his head and cheek, saying “You’ve been in an accident, we’re trying to get the door open. Everything will be ok…”

I had no idea if it would be.

With three of us working on the door - we couldn’t get it open. I jumped around to the other side of the car and was able to release the driver’s seat slider, so his chest was off the steering wheel. Nothing else would budge… not the seat angle lever or door. He was stuck until the real Emergency Responders arrived. I prayed the car wouldn’t burst into flames.

More commuters trotted up on the scene. I knew I was at the limit of my abilities. As I returned to my car I saw the other car down in the ditch. The folks viewing that vehicle were just standing there… it must have been obviously a futile situation. I continued to my car to move it out of the way for the Police, Fire and Ambulances.

An hour later, I asked one of the VDOT workers how the kid was doing. He said they were trying CPR on him, but it didn’t look good. The ambulance drove off, but not at any speed… not a good sign.

Another hour later, They waved us on after sweeping all the glass, metal and spilled oil. My car wouldn’t start. I had left my flashers and headlights on the entire time. My battery was dead.

I’m feeling a bit inadequate right now. My pry bar didn’t work, my First Aide kit was strictly for boo-boos, not accidents, and my presence of mind was such that I didn’t think to shut off my lights. Thank you to the VDOT worker that gave me a jump from his battery pack.

God bless the two families as they have to deal with the tragic loss of these two people. I know I’m going to hug my wife and kid when I get home.

Oct 14
Wednesday's Northern Virginia Daily:
"Two people died and a third was injured in a three-vehicle accident Tuesday morning on Interstate 81 in southern Frederick County.
Sgt. F.L. (Les) Tyler of the Virginia State Police identified the fatalities as Tyler Scott Marshall, 19, of Wardensville, West Virginia, and Kathleen Haugen, 54, of Florida."

I'm sorry I couldn't help you, Tyler. I hope you're at rest. Kathleen, I'm so sorry this happened to you. I hope both of your families find peace in this tragedy. 

November 6
I've spent a few days planning and executing a small Dia de los Muertos cigar box memorial for Tyler. I downloaded a few pictures of him, his wife and daughter from the web. When I attended his funeral, they played a number of songs he loved, like Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here", and a selection his mother chose, Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Simple Man". Both selections were appropriate and hauntingly sombre in that setting. Since I had to teach a class at the Shenandoah Arts Council on the Day of the Dead traditions, I used this opportunity to create this box. I hope to give it to his family, but it's going to be very awkward to approach them.

The guitars are cut out on my bandsaw, shaped and painted with enamels. The Martin Acoustic is out of Red Oak, and the Gibson SG is out of Maple. The box is roughly 12" x 12" x 3".