Archive for Wednesday, July 16, 2003

Shouts and Murmurs

The tell-tale tracks of innocence

July 16, 2003

Now I'm glad I hadn't washed the car.

Saturday afternoon while driving south on Kansas Highway 7 just south of Kansas Avenue, I slowed as two vehicles in front of me slowed down to turn onto a street heading west. I glanced into the rearview mirror and in one terrifying instant saw another car barreling toward the back of my car. A split second later -- the crash. The shoulder harnesses snapped taut, protecting me and my friend, Patty. We were jolted and shocked, but safe.

The three occupants of the other car, a young man who was driving, a young woman and a small child, also appeared to be unharmed.

Thank heaven for seatbelts.

The man immediately told me that my vehicle had caused the collision. He said that my spare tire, which was mounted under the rear of my vehicle, had fallen off. He said he drove over the tire and it kept his brakes from stopping his car when the traffic in front of him slowed.

I believed him. After all, don't people always tell the truth at the scene of an accident?

I called 911. The Bonner Springs police cars arrived within just a few minutes and began gathering information from all of us.

Because I have been a newspaper journalist and photographer for years, it occurred to me to take pictures of the scene. So I went to the car to get my digital camera. I must admit even I wondered why I would want pictures of an accident that I was said to have caused. I grabbed the camera anyway.

So there I was, back in my reporter/ photographer mode, taking pictures from all angles, as I've done at dozens of other accidents. It was just a little surreal this time, being both a participant (and an assumed guilty or negligent participant at that) as well as an observer.

Of first note was the fact that there were no skid marks on the roadway.

Then, when taking a closeup shot of the other car's front bumper, I saw my dusty spare tire lodged beneath the other driver's car. And then I noticed that the center third of his bumper, which was still intact and on his car, was very dusty. In the dust on his bumper there was an exact print of my spare tire's tread. The rest of his car was clean and shiny.

For an instant, I was puzzled. Why, if my tire had fallen on the roadway and he had run over it, would there be a level print of my tire on his bumper which was at least a foot above the ground.

About that time, the policemen came over to look at his car.

They too, noticed the tire imprint.

An officer later said he had heard the same story from the man that I had heard -- that my spare tire had caused the wreck. But upon seeing the imprint, he realized the tire had fallen off after the man rear ended my car -- not before. That's when they ticketed the other driver for inattentive driving. In a written statement taken after that, the man admitted he had been at fault.

It was about an hour before the dust settled, so to speak. An ambulance arrived to check the young woman in the other car who may have had a minor injury. Two fire trucks were on the scene, the oil spots on the highway were cleaned. The other car, a 2003 Saturn, was towed off. Patty and I drove on in my car, which was damaged but drivable.

At that moment I realized there was much for which to be thankful. No one was seriously hurt. I could still drive my car. And last but not least thankful that I had not washed my car earlier in the day, for a good cleaning would have washed the dust off the spare tire and it's likely had that happened, no one, including myself, ever would have known the truth.

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