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Thursday, July 24, 2014
Southwest Louisiana ,
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Beam: One accident witness overlooked

Last Modified: Wednesday, May 15, 2013 9:28 PM

By Jim Beam / American Press

The air bag didn’t deploy, but the seat belt held. That fact, in addition to driving a heavy automobile, may have saved my life.

It was raining when I left the state Capitol about 4:30 p.m. Friday, heading west for home on Interstate 10 after covering an historic week at the Legislature. Members of the House had rewritten Gov. Bobby Jindal’s $24.7 billion budget, a rare event in a state where the governor reigns supreme.

The rain had stopped as I drove onto the Atchafalaya Basin bridge, but the highway was still covered with water. Things were uneventful until I neared Milepost 124. A small pickup truck ahead of me in the left lane had either slowed down to a crawl or come to a complete stop.

I hit the brakes, but my car didn’t slow down much. It may have been the water on the road that caused it to slide, but, whatever the reason, I could see my car was going to ram the rear of that pickup.

The right lane was clear, so I moved over in order to miss the pickup. Unfortunately, my car started to spin as I passed alongside. An eyewitness later told me it spun around three times before hitting a bridge guardrail head-on.

As I was twirling around, I wondered whether my car might roll over the top of the guardrail into the water below. It was a frightening thought.

The car came to a complete stop sideways in the right lane. A woman, who was alone in that pickup truck, came over to check things out and offered to call my wife. She also gave me a towel for my bleeding hand.

I had an excruciating pain in my back. I couldn’t lift my head.

A state trooper eventually arrived, walked over and asked for my driver’s license and vehicle registration. When he saw I couldn’t reach the glove pocket, he offered to walk around and get the paperwork.

I didn’t see him again until later, assuming he was calling an ambulance and checking traffic. The left lane was open and cars and trucks began driving through. An 18-wheeler ripped off some of the front end of my car that was apparently still hanging there and kept on trucking.

The next and last time I saw the trooper, he said he was giving me a ticket for careless operation, handing me paperwork showing where my car would be taken and shooting photos of my vehicle.

I don’t recall him ever asking me how the accident happened. Maybe he interviewed someone else, but that is still a mystery.

Something about that has disturbed me since the accident. I thought I had done a pretty good job of evading that pickup truck and not injuring anyone in it.

I wasn’t speeding, my car was totaled and I received the only injuries in the accident. The water on the road was also a factor that should come into play when deciding fault.

Does there always have to be someone to blame? Don’t some accidents just happen?

Getting your first traffic ticket ever at age 79 has to mean something when it comes to determining whether you should be called a careless driver. 

State Police have a tough and dangerous job out on those treacherous highways. And there are always a lot of accidents to handle on rainy days. However, they can still be courteous and show a little concern when dealing with accident victims.

A couple of motorists, who apparently had stopped behind the accident, came over and asked me if I was seriously injured. 

Both said, “Don’t try to get out of your car until help arrives.”

The ambulance personnel helped me out of the car, put me on a board and wrapped a neck brace around my throat. They checked my vital signs on the way to St. Martin Parish hospital.

After hearing from my wife, our managing editor drove to the Breaux Bridge hospital from his home in Crowley to lend a hand. And my wife and daughter-in-law left Lake Charles headed east.

Extensive scans at the hospital determined there were no broken bones, just chest pain from the seat belt and neck and back contusions from apparent whiplash. I was extremely fortunate to be able to eventually walk away from a horrific accident with no serious injuries.

The pain is still there, but it has subsided somewhat. Calls from friends, ministers, church members, colleagues from work, legislators and others from Baton Rouge have been uplifting. But that traffic ticket still bugs me.

I thanked everyone involved who had been so helpful and caring. And as we rode home around midnight, I also remembered to thank God for seeing me through a terrifying experience.

    • • •

Jim Beam, the retired editor of the American Press, has covered people and politics for more than five decades. Contact him at 494-4025 or jbeam@americanpress.com

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