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The first time I covered a wreck as a reporter, I had a million questions and I was scared to death.
The wreck involved a motorcycle and a flatbed truck with a backhoe on it. Parts of the motorcycle were strewn across the road and I had to maneuver around the pieces to find the best angle for a photo.
As I moved to a better vantage point, something bright white caught my eye. It was beneath the flatbed trailer. It seemed so out of place—so pristine and clean—in the otherwise mangled mess of debris and machinery.
As I raised my camera to take a photo, I realized what it was. The ambulance had not yet arrived and I was standing a few feet away from a sheet covering a motorcycle driver.
My heart sank. I had a job to do, but my heart struggled knowing someone had just died.
Those are the hardest stories to tell. It’s painful to know how quickly people’s lives change.
Hearing about the wreck on U.S. 17 Monday afternoon, which ultimately claimed the life of a motorcycle driver, quickly took me back to that first wreck.
Since then, the list of horrific, sad, life-changing fires, wrecks, accidents and murders I’ve covered has grown. The sting and pain of that never really goes away. Among the most traumatic was a three-vehicle wreck in my hometown years ago.
There was a devilishly bad curve in the community that was the constant site of crashes. That day scanner traffic indicated a dump truck carrying a load of asphalt had overturned.
The wreck was a short distance from the office. I arrived quickly and parked at the bottom of the hill. As I traversed up the road, a fire truck passed me. I listened to radio traffic, which quite suddenly fell quiet.
I was haunted by how quiet it can sometimes get in the midst of tragedy.
As I rounded the first curve, I saw a pickup. It was penned against a rock wall.
The radio crackled to life.
“We have one 10-7,” I heard the deputy call out.
I raised my eyes and gently peered to my right. I saw a flannel shirt. I saw suspenders. I saw the driver.
10-7. Out of service.
He was dead.
The deputy’s voice again bellowed out. I could hear him on the radio and ahead of me around the bend.
“Hurry! They’re trapped! They’re trapped! They’re trapped in the asphalt!”
To my right a dump truck was on its side. The driver was OK, but he sat slumped against it.
And then it hit me.
The heat. The intense heat.
The load of asphalt was hot and as it spilled, it covered the roadway. Driving in the opposite direction was an older couple—grandparents—on their way to town. Their vehicle impacted with the asphalt and it spilled into the car, trapping them inside.
The next few hours I forever carry with me. I can still see their faces. They both died. So did the driver of the pickup truck.
I still remember Jon and Eva and Robbie, the emergency workers who yelled and fought tirelessly to save their lives.
After the wreck, I talked to friends and family as they remembered those who died. I did my best to tell the story of what good, faithful, devoted people they were. I covered the stories of criminal charges and civil suits that followed.
I never again drove that stretch of road without remembering them. It eventually got to the point I couldn’t drive anywhere in my county without mentally recalling tragedies associated with landmarks in my hometown.
Eventually, the state agreed to reconfigure the road where the dump truck wrecked. The curve was removed and the community has been safer because of it.
It became the bigger picture, although the stories of those lives lost before must never be forgotten. That’s why, even though sometimes its painful and hard, stories like these must be told.
In the end, we must all be reminded how important it is to love one another, to be cautious and thoughtful and caring. We must all work together to try to keep our community safe because we never know when suddenly that all could change.