Finally Friday! It was not just any Friday, it was the Friday former apartment Fry C302 had anticipated for about five months. Our ultimate destination was Long Island, New York but Jason and I were going to stop in Philly to break up the trip. I picked him up around 9:30 PM in Baltimore and we began our journey. Per the usual we discussed everything from girls, to politics, to sports and reminisced on those nostalgic moments that made college so great.
During one of our conversations I noticed a SUV fly past the passenger side in the middle lane. When he made it about three car lengths in front, the back of the vehicle started to shake and entered a fish tail. It then launched perpendicularly into the guard rail and all the lights on the car went black.
“They’re dead…” I thought immediately as I broke anticipating any debris that might ricochet back into traffic.
“Pull Over!” Jason yelled from the passenger seat. I started to pull to the left shoulder, but realized the stupidity of my decision and moved over to the right shoulder as soon as I could. Unfortunately a car in the right lane prevented us from getting over as quickly as we wanted placing us further away from the wrecked vehicle. Jason bolted out of the car and ran back towards the severe accident. I opened my door and braced myself against the car as I realized how close we were to traffic whizzing by. I restarted my car and pulled closer to the rail hoping that our car would not lead to a second wreck.
I’m not sure if it was the fact that I saw other cars pulled over, or that I knew Jason was already down the road, but I wasn’t moving as fast as I’d like. The smoke from the car became thicker, indicating that something was burning. I walked over, preparing myself mentally to see a mangled, decapitated, or impaled form of the human body caused by the vicious crash. I picked up the pace a little bit realizing that Jason would definitely pull people out if need be, and ultimately I’d need to jump in too if the situation called for it. A little ominous glow rose above the car, signally to everyone around that the passengers inside had to get out.
Luckily, by the time I arrived at the vehicle, the wounded driver (we’ll name him David for now) and fairly unharmed passenger had been pulled out by another bystander prior to either Jason’s or my arrival. The individual that pulled the victims from the car passed the David off to Jason. Blood ran down both sides of his face as he looked up dazed, unsure of what was happening. He only knew that something about 50 ft. to his left was emitting a very, very bright light. We could tell his chest was causing him immense pain as he held on to it, attempting fruitlessly to ease the sensation. Jason sat him up on the guard rail, and the other passenger from the vehicle held David in a constant embrace, not letting him tilt in any direction.
Jason, myself, and a few other bystanders who pulled over tried to make some conversation to ease the tension and keep David awake (he had an obvious concussion). We were also shocked. As bad as David appeared, he looked better than he should’ve. I was sure no one survived the accident, so anything short of death was incredible.
A few painstakingly long moments passed as we waited for the arrival of the police and EMTs. Jason then looked at me and asked, “Is this really happening?” It was surreal. The car at this point was completely engulfed in flames. A few seconds later, we heard the final pops as the flames reached the gas tank, causing a small, but still startling explosion on the side of I-95. Everyone there was thrilled that these two individuals were on the side of the road, and out of the vehicle.
Minutes later, one of David’s friends showed up at the scene (yes, he beat the cops and EMTs). This was possibly the most difficult part of the evening. The friend (we’ll name him Joseph) ran up frenetically and in a panicked, desperate voice, he cried, “What happened man?!” He repeated those words over and over for awhile, pausing occasionally to look over David’s wounded and bloodied body. Joseph’s world crashed to the ground harder than his David’s car hit the guard rail. I had to look away and gaze back at the burning remains of the vehicle. It was almost too difficult to look at Joseph’s reaction to the entire thing. For some reason, there seemed like a bit of guilt in his voice. I have no basis for understanding why, but Jason sensed the same thing.
That was one of the many things that stuck with me from that night. It wasn’t just the honesty of his reaction, but the contrast from ours. Of course we didn’t know David, but I think there was another major factor at play. For those of us who saw the accident, David was in relatively great shape. I was expecting to come across a corpse, or at least something very close to it. When I saw him assisted to the guard rail, it was a huge relief. It was almost as if David was resurrected in my own mind.
Joseph did not witness the accident, so he could only compare David’s current state with his normal, unharmed state. This, along with all of our collective adrenaline rushes caused us to experience this I-95 scene differently. I’m not sure if Joseph will ever know just how lucky he was to see David in the state he did. Probably best he never does.
In the end both of our perspectives reflected a shared consensus on just how precious life is. Jason and I saw a life almost taken away, so behind all the wounds remained a preserved, and delicate life. Joseph missed the accident, but saw the evidence of how close he was to never seeing his friend again.