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City Life

Apathy's too easy when trauma is mundane

Published August 6, 2005

When I heard the crash I knew it was a big one. It was 5:10 on a Friday afternoon in July when cars are racing through the intersection of Bay to Bay Boulevard and Manhattan, hurtling toward Westshore or Gandy and points beyond. It was hot, even for July, very hot.

I picked up my cell phone and went outside. When I saw the intersection it was clear several people with cell phones were already on the case. I walked over anyway. Two young women were huddled together on the curb, crying. Their car, a Grand Prix, was still on the street, engine running. The air bags were hanging limp from the dash.

The other car, an old Maxima, was on the pavement in front of an auto repair shop. It was turned in such a way I couldn't figure how the two cars could possibly have hit each other. The driver, a woman, was still in the driver's seat. Short hair, middle-aged - she sat, staring straight ahead, not moving. I wondered why. Wasn't she concerned about the people in the other car?

The young women were on their cells. The police came up and started asking questions, and when asked if anything hurt, one said her chest hurt but she had asthma, so that wasn't unusual.

I went home, but after I got there, it occurred to me how very hot it was, and that the young woman with asthma might have an attack, sitting there in the heat. I went back with two cold bottles of water. Another young woman was standing over them. She told me she had been driving by, saw the accident, and realized, "I know these people!" They all work together.

The driver was still sitting in the Maxima. When I went around to the other side of her car, I saw why. The car was so punched in right at the driver's seat, I couldn't understand how she still had room to be in there. The bottom of the car was crunched down to the pavement. There was no way she could have gotten out.

"I had to cut her seat belt off," one of the car repair guys told me. "It was strangling her." The belt was also stretched too tight across her stomach.

He said it was lucky she had it on. Otherwise, she would have shot right through the car and out the other side, he said. That was how great the impact was.

She was conscious. There was blood on her face but her face wasn't cut.

By now there were all kinds of emergency vehicles around, police cruisers and four Fire Rescue trucks. Rescue workers were taking out various instruments to pry away the side of the car. One rescue worker, a paramedic, I think, had crawled into the back seat. She still didn't move.

It took 10 or 15 minutes to remove the side of the car and then extricate her from it, moving her as little as possible. It was done with great care. A stretcher with something that looked like a grid on top was placed at the side of the car and she was eased out onto it. I heard her moan in pain.

As they were carrying her to the paramedic truck, a young man wearing oversized baggy shorts and shirt, who had arrived minutes ago and had been talking with the police, walked alongside and said a few words to her.

I thought it might be her son.

The woman had been trapped in the car for 25 minutes after the crash.

Another man at the auto repair shop said her car had shot 15 feet into the air, hit the telephone pole and smashed down onto the pavement. That explained its position and why the bottom of the car was scrunched down to the ground.

When I got home I was exhausted and not just from the heat. This was a dramatic event, like a TV drama, and if it were something really unusual I would have felt different, maybe better, maybe worse, but it happens every day.

Every single day.

Every single day people are killed, every single day people are injured - sometimes a little, sometimes a lot - in car accidents.

If this mayhem were caused by anything else - buses, monorails, airplanes - anything other than our precious cars, no one would put up with it.

The question is, why do we?

Sandra Thompson, a Tampa writer, can be reached at City Life appears on Saturday.

[Last modified August 6, 2005, 01:35:13]

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