Earlier today, I was the first person on the scene of the accident. And I almost didn't realize it.
After I left Austin this morning around 11, I headed down towards Shiner, TX to check out the Spoetzl brewery, which is where Shiner Bock and other beers are made. I got there just before 2:00, and they had a tour starting at 2:30, so I decided to wait around. It was pretty crowded in their gift shop, especially after the 1:30 tour got done and they all came in to get their beer samples, so I sat in the side room where they were showing a 10-minute video on Shiner that was produced in 1998. I know it was 10 minutes, because after it got back to where I started watching it, I looked at my phone and was bummed that I still had 20 minutes to kill until the tour. And then my phone died, so I couldn't even use that to distract me.
Finally, a few minutes before the tour was supposed to start (I assume), I just decided I didn't really want to go on it. I was tired, I just wanted to get to a coffeeshop and get a cold drink and relax and charge my phone. So I left the brewery, went and got some gas, and then headed east out of town on a road that I hoped would take me where I wanted to go - I didn't know because I couldn't check the directions on my phone.
I think I'd gone less than 20 miles, when I noticed a white pickup truck on the side of the road. At first I thought they were just parked there, next to the field. Then I noticed that it looked a little smashed up - the drivers side doors looked like they weren't lined up quite right, and I thought I could see the windshield shattered. It seemed weird, because there didn't appear to be anyone in the car, there wasn't anyone else around, and it looked like someone had just abandoned the truck there, all smashed up. That didn't seem like something that the cops would do. As I went by, I looked more closely, and when I got over to the other side of the truck, I saw just how badly it was smashed up - the entire passenger side was crumpled in, wrapped around the telephone pole. And -
No way. There was what looked like a hand sticking out of the passenger side of the car.
From the look of the truck... there was no way someone on the passenger side could have survived. Maybe the driver side, but I hadn't seen anyone in it when I went by. I didn't look all that closely though.. it was possible. I pulled a quick U-turn and headed back to the truck. As I was pulling up, I could see the airbag fluttering in the wind inside the truck. I pulled over on the side of the road and put the kickstand down, and then ran over to the driver side of the truck, helmet still on.
There was someone in there.
A woman, probably in her 70's or 80's. Gray curly hair. Blood on her face, mostly coming from her nose and dripping down over her lips and down her chin, and some on her eyebrow as well. Her face was already somewhat discolored from bruising, making it look grayish or greenish... almost like she was already dead.
But she wasn't. As I came up to the car I heard her saying something, and when I got closer I realized she was saying "Help me, help me." Over and over. When I came into her view, she looked at me and her cries for help turned into begging me for help. Her eyes were grayish and cloudy, and filled with panic. It was hard to look at them.
She was the only one in the car, fortunately. I realized that it had been her arm reaching out the passenger side of the car - the passenger door was now closer to her than the driver door, the car had smashed into the pole so hard.
I smelled gasoline, and something else. Blood maybe? I don't know. It smelled horrible.
The gasoline was really not good - this part of Texas has gotten rain maybe two days this summer, and the grass is extremely dry. Every county has a burn ban in effect, and it's obvious why. The truck was out in the middle of a field of dry grass that would go up in a second if there was any fire.
Her window was up and her door was jammed so I couldn't open it. I did a quick check to see if there was anything I could do immediately, and asked if she was okay. I asked if she thought anything was broken, or if she was bleeding badly. The only response I got from her was more pleas of "Help me." I guessed that she was in shock.
I ran back to the road to flag someone down. As I left the car, I could hear her cries of "Help me" become more desperate.
My cellphone had just died back in Shiner, so I couldn't even call 911. Fortunately a car was coming by right then, so I waved frantically for them to stop. For a second I thought they weren't going to - they seemed to be going faster than they should have if they were stopping. But they did, and I ran to their window and told them that someone was in the car, that they were alive but hurt but hopefully not horribly, and that they should call 911. The wife started calling immediately, and the husband got out and followed me as I ran back to the car.
When I got back to the car, I could hear her still saying "help me" over and over. I told her that help was on the way, that the paramedics were coming. Then her eyelids dropped... and her chin went to her chest. I tried to get her to talk to me again - "Ma'am, are you okay? Ma'am, look at me. Ma'am?" She didn't respond, but her chest was still moving - she was still breathing.
The guy from the car came over and looked over the car and the woman, and confirmed what I had thought - we probably shouldn't move her, it smelled like gasoline, and holy cow she must have hit that telephone pole hard. Then he said something I hadn't thought of - "If it starts on fire, we're just going to have to try to get that door open and get her out of there anyway."
It's hard to express how helpless I felt right then. I couldn't help her. If she had been bleeding badly or needed medical attention, there wasn't much I could do. I couldn't get the door open, and even if I could, what would I have done? Until the paramedics showed up, all I could do was stand there and talk to her.
More people stopped. The sheriff got there after what felt like forever, but was probably a few minutes. He tried the door, and then called in for the jaws of life to open it. A little later, though, and with the help of a hammer that someone else brought over, he was able to break out the window of the back door on the driver side and get the driver door unlocked and then pry it open with the hammer.
They were also able to get her purse out of the back of the truck so that they could find out her name. They pulled her cellphone out, and one of the guys handed it to me and asked if I could look up the last person she called and call them. So I found her recent call list, and called the last one on the list... and this guy's phone started ringing. The guy who had handed me the phone. Who had pulled up in a truck towing a trailer with a backhoe. I'm not sure if it was coming from me dialing, or if it was coincidence, and I didn't get to find out. Right about then, the paramedics showed up, and I had to move my bike so they could park down in the grass next to her car.
The paramedics eventually got her onto a stretcher, and right about then, the two other guys who had stopped about the same time as me decided to leave, so I did too. As I pulled away I kept picturing her bloody face, yellowing from the bruising, the panic in her glassy eyes pleading with me as she kept repeating "help me" over and over again.
Even now, I can still taste that horrible smell in the back of my throat. When I stopped a bit ago to fill up my gas tank, the smell of the gas reminded me of being back there.
I wondered as I pulled away what had happened. It took at least five minutes before any of us figured out how the car had gotten to the pole. The truck was on the west side of the telephone pole (I had originally approached from the west), so I thought she'd been going east like me when she hit it, but there weren't any obvious tire tracks from that direction - though there were a few parts from her car strewn out that way.
Eventually, I saw the tracks on the other side of the pole - she had been traveling west, and hit the pole so hard that the car spun 180 degrees around it. The tracks were strange too - they were in the grass for a pretty long distance, which made it seem like she hadn't reacted for quite some time after getting into the grass. Maybe she'd been asleep or something. And the tracks went pretty straight right up to the pole, yet the side of her car was completely smashed in, so maybe she had tried to react at the last second and that had caused the car to slide sideways into the pole.
I'm not sure what happened. I'm not sure how badly she was hurt. I was too scared to ask the paramedics. But I want to know if she's okay - I'm just not sure how to do that. Maybe I'll call the police department or closest hospital?
I've been a little out of it since then. I'll be glad to get to the couchsurfer I'm staying with tonight and actually be able to talk to someone.