NAME WITHHELD BY REQUEST
Author’s note: The following story is true. All names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.
It was about 0330 when I received an unexpected phone call. A Soldier in my section named Alan was involved in a single-vehicle rollover accident and air evacuated to a Little Rock, Arkansas, hospital. I immediately phoned Alan’s first-line supervisor, Tony, and the readiness NCO and ensured they were both informed of everything I knew up to that point. Tony and I decided to make the three-hour drive from Fort Smith to Little Rock to be by Alan’s side and check on his condition.
When we arrived at the hospital, I was told Alan was in a medically induced coma due to brain swelling. Doctors didn’t want him to move around and make it worse while they treated him. Alan’s parents were in the waiting area and immediately gave Tony and me sobbing hugs. They kept saying, “We just hope he is all right.”
We waited patiently for about two hours while the hospital staff performed all the required tests and scans to ensure Alan had no other underlying injuries. As we sat there, we talked about what we’d learned from hospital staff and the police officers that were first on the accident scene. From what we gathered, Alan, who was on official leave for the weekend, was out drinking with friends. They planned to have a designated driver meet them at the bar at 0200 to take them home.
Alan’s parents said one of their son’s friends, who was with Alan that night, told them another acquaintance, Bruce, and his girlfriend got into an argument at the bar. Both left in their vehicles about 1245. Alan followed in his vehicle because he was concerned about Bruce. Once they were safely at Bruce’s residence, he told Alan he was returning to the bar to confront the guys that started the argument between him and his girlfriend. Alan, again focused on his best friend’s wellbeing, also left to follow Bruce back to the bar.
Bruce stated that after coming out of a curve in the road, he watched for Alan’s headlights but never saw them. He pulled onto the roadside to wait for his friend, but Alan never appeared. After about two minutes, Bruce turned his vehicle around to search for Alan. In his intoxicated state, however, he did not see any sign of Alan’s vehicle, so he gave up and returned to the bar.
About 0130, passing motorists noticed a glare as their headlights reflected off something in a ditch. They immediately pulled over and ran down a hillside, where they found Alan in his crashed vehicle and called authorities. An ambulance arrived shortly after police and requested an air evacuation team, which flew Alan to the hospital in Little Rock.
Once all tests were completed and Alan was in stable condition, he was brought out of his coma so family and friends could see him. He told us his side of the story, which corroborated his friend’s account. He said he’d lost sight of Bruce’s taillights on the way back to the bar. After that, he didn’t remember anything else until two good Samaritans pulled him from the wreckage.
When asked why he hadn’t waited for the designated driver to pick him up, Alan said he’d shown up early and also began drinking. Therefore, he didn’t think it was safe to be riding with that individual. Plus, he felt fine and didn’t think he was too buzzed to drive. “Next time, we need a designated driver who doesn’t drink,” he said. Alan’s main concern was for Bruce. We assured him Bruce and his other friends were all safe and extremely worried about him.
As a result of Alan’s accident, he was charged with driving while intoxicated, required to take driver safety courses and ordered to have a “blow-and-go” breath alcohol analyzer installed in his vehicle for one year. On the Army side, he was placed on probation and not allowed to drive a military vehicle for one year, which was set by the company commander. Thankfully, Alan, nor anyone else, lost their life that evening.
As a bystander, this was one of the most stressful situations I have ever been a part of because I felt helpless. All I could think about was had I not signed Alan’s leave form, he wouldn’t be laying in that hospital bed. If I’d given a better safety briefing, maybe he wouldn’t have put himself in that situation. I now give an even more in-depth safety brief to my Soldiers and ensure they have my phone number and know they can call me at any hour for a sober ride home. I’d much rather see them get home safely than in the hospital — or worse, in a coffin as we lay them to rest.