By PJ Carmichael
It is 2:15 a.m., Sunday, Feb. 24, 2013. I am standing outside of my dorm building, watching a car that has just struck a white house. A crowd has gathered around the display of flashing lights and metal wreckage. A few minutes before this, my friends and I had casually been smoking cigarettes, unaware of the incident about to unfold before us.
2:00 a.m., Sunday, Feb. 24, 2013, outside of my friend’s dorm building, at the top of the Cedar Street hill. Dan, Sam, Tim, and I are smoking in the snow when a silver car accelerates by us, heading down the hill at an absurd speed. In the 10 seconds that follow, my friends and I vocalize that a car crash is imminent. We wait for the crash after the car has left our sight. We anticipate the sound of a massive amount of metal colliding with some other object. We know that there is no possible way that a car going that fast down a slushy hill is going to successfully brake for the stop sign at the bottom.
We hear it.
We immediately run down the hill to witness the actual damage. The silver car remains stationary in front of a house that it has crashed into at the bottom of the hill. The front of the car is completely smashed in, and my friends and I all express our surprise that the car did not go completely through the house’s seemingly frail wall. We conclude that the driver must have tried to brake before striking the house.
We notice a deliveryman from some pizza shop already at the bottom of the hill. He runs over to my friends and I after returning from investigating the destroyed car.
“Do you know this kid?”
“No, man, we don’t.” I run up to the driver’s window after Tim approaches the car. The windows are fogged up, but there is clearly a young man around my age in the driver’s seat. He is lying sideways, his head resting on the passenger’s seat. There is blood on his face, but the windows obscure any other details. Tim bangs on the window and attempts to wake the driver. We both try to open the doors of the car, but they are locked. Tim loudly repeats, over and over, “Open the door, man. Open the door.” There is absolutely no doubt that the driver is unconscious.
My friends and I decide to watch from a distance, and I pray that the driver is not seriously hurt or killed. I’ve never witnessed a car crash so closely, let alone been the second person to approach the wreck. The entire time this is happening, the deliveryman is on his Bluetooth, calling 9-1-1.
In less than five minutes, we see the piercing blue lights of an approaching police car. The officer runs over to the mess of plastic and metal and attempts to wake up the driver by banging on the door and screaming. No response.
Raising his baton, the officer tries to break through the rear passenger’s side window. Another officer arrives as the first continues his efforts to break the window. He is unsuccessful, but manages to awaken the driver. The young man weakly opens his door, grabbing his head in pain as he does so. He appears to be in his 20’s and completely unaware of what is happening. The officers begin to ask him questions as he squints into their flashlights.
Within a few more minutes, an ambulance arrives, as well as numerous fire trucks and more police officers. The entire area surrounding my dorm has become an unfortunate carnival of flashing lights and concerned individuals. A small group of fellow college kids stand worriedly on the corner at the bottom of the hill. We all wonder if the driver is a student at Fitchburg State University, if we know him, and if he had been drinking.
Standing in the freezing cold, we collectively converse and ask questions, watching the spectacle from a distance. Some kids take pictures and videos, while others simply stare in awe. I am trying to capture the moment completely in my mind: the black wheels of the stretcher on the cold, wet ground, the deafening honk of the fire engine’s horn, the still gleam of the silver car’s bright red rear lights.
After an extensive amount of interaction between the driver, the police, and the firefighters, the young driver is taken away in an ambulance that is parked behind one of the fire trucks. This large vehicle obstructs the view of the small gathering on the corner, so my friends and I agree that the best thing to do is simply leave and get some sleep. It has been a long night.
The entire experience is a surreal event that happens quickly, without any sort of soundtrack aside from the sole sounds of the collision and the brief noises of sirens that are promptly shut off upon arrival at the scene. The incident is over within 45 minutes. Within those minutes, one young man’s life is forever altered.
After the fact, my friends and I contemplate the preposterousness of the whole situation. We had predicted that the car would crash; it was a simple observation, but I somehow feel guilty for coming to that conclusion before the actual event. This is the first (and hopefully the last) story I will ever have to write about witnessing a car crash.