CHIEF WARRANT OFFICER 3 RUSSELL HALL
Joint Force Headquarters-New York
Field Maintenance Shop #13
New York Army National Guard
Binghamton, New York
I am the supervisor of a field maintenance shop and have been in the military for more than 20 years. Driving and riding in automobiles and trucks is an everyday occurrence. What happened on this day, however, forever changed my view of driving.
It was a mild, sunny afternoon. The driving conditions were near perfect and I was riding as the passenger in a Chevrolet pickup. The driver, Jim, was a friend of mine who was also the superintendent of the armory where I worked. We were making the 15-mile drive to a Boy Scout camp. An engineer unit supported by my maintenance shop had been doing community projects at the camp, and some had lasted through the summer and fall, such as road-improvement tasks. With the holiday season approaching, I felt it was a good idea to check on the equipment that would remain at the camp until it could be moved back to the unit armory.
Jim is a good driver and also races small cars throughout the year in an organized road-racing club. We were both wearing our seat belts and traveling at the legal speed limit. About 10 miles into the drive, Jim suddenly yelled, “Hold on!”
I was aware of the traffic, which was heavier than normal, but I must admit I was not actively surveying how close other vehicles were traveling to our rear or while passing us. Immediately after Jim yelled, there was a slight bump in the rear of the pickup. Jim changed lanes to avoid being hit by a passing car but was struck a second time. As the truck began to fishtail, I grabbed the handle on the pillar by the windshield and planted my feet on the floorboard.
The truck’s rear end swung back and forth a couple of times as Jim attempted to regain control. Finally, the momentum we had picked up as the tires slid on the highway forced the truck into a 360 degree rollover. It seemed that each time we rolled onto a different side of the truck. It felt like it took hours to transition to the next side, or roof or other side. I can still clearly hear the sounds of breaking glass, crunching metal and screaming tires. All of them blended with my view of the road seeming to come straight for us as we now slid down the highway on the roof of the truck.
At some point, I blacked out as the truck continued to slide off the shoulder of the highway. When it reached the soft, grassy area on the shoulder, it flipped back onto its tires. I remember regaining consciousness and realizing the truck was still running, so I reached over and turned the key to shut off the engine. I was covered in broken glass, my left ankle was in pain and I saw that my right hand was bleeding.
I looked over to check on Jim. He was unconscious and bleeding from his head. I spoke to him to let him know I was OK and that he should not attempt to move. Other cars stopped and a group of people gathered. They diverted traffic, got first aid supplies and called 911. I am grateful to those folks for stopping and taking the time to help us.
Jim’s side of the truck took a more severe hit than mine. His head actually scraped along the highway for a time due to the side of the truck being crushed inward about a foot and a half. He was lucky that his injuries were not more severe. The first responders used an extraction tool to pry open his door to release him from the truck. My door actually still worked, so I was able to get out of the truck and hop over to the other side to talk to Jim until I was strapped to a board and placed into an ambulance. I suffered some minor cuts, a sprained ankle and a severed tendon on my right hand. Jim and I both had operations that night at the hospital. Thankfully, we were also both released a few days later.
The driver of the car that hit us that day was a Soldier on leave from Iraq, driving his sports care at more than 85 mph. The low profile of the front of his vehicle, combined with the speed he was traveling and the height of Jim’s truck, caused his car to actually lift the rear end of the pickup off the highway. This was a major contributor to Jim losing control of the truck. The importance of seat belts cannot be overstated. If either of us had not been strapped in, the chances of being thrown around the inside and/or partially or completely ejected from the truck would have increased significantly.
When we drove to look at the wrecked truck a few days later, Jim and I were amazed we were not hurt more severely. We are grateful for how lucky we were. When I drive now, I pay more attention to the other drivers on the road around me. Not only do I drive more defensively, I try to identify and avoid potential hazard points. And, of course, I still wear my seat belt.