Drunk Driving Antiabstraction

Much of the time the tragedies that occur in our world remain abstractions. Once in a while, though, these events come close to home. A relative is diagnosed with cancer. A friend’s house burns to the ground. A coworker is arrested for a felony. Suddenly these occurrences aren’t news items, but flesh and blood before us.

Wednesday night I was driving from a basketball game at the college to our office to clock out before heading home. I came to the stop light at 10th and Mississippi, which my Ada readers know is in the middle of town. I pulled up behind a pickup that was drifting slowly into the opposite lane as it came to a stop at the traffic light. I literally said aloud to myself, “Are we texting?”

The light changed and we both started west down 10th street. Almost immediately it became obvious that the driver was under the influence, and probably very drunk. He crossed the centerline several times, and nearly struck a parked car on the right side of the road, at the place where Abby gets her hair cut. I called 911 and told the dispatcher what I saw, where we were and where we were going. The dispatcher told me that his city units were all on the east side, too far away to respond immediately.

As we got to 10th and Broadway, about six blocks from Mississippi, there was a traffic light. At it was stopped my editor, who is, by small-town coincidence, the wife of the dispatcher to whom I was talking. Looking in her rear view mirror, she concluded that the pickup in question wasn’t going to stop, so despite the red light, she turned left and proceeded to Central Dispatch, where she was delivering dinner to her husband.

The pickup did stop, partly askew over the centerline, then drove on after the light changed. I stayed with it, and on the line with dispatch. We made a couple of turns and ended up on Main street, where the driver made several vague lane changes, and crossed the centerline several more times. He then turned onto Sandy Creek Drive, and I continued to follow. Apparently without the encumbrance of traffic signals and stop signs, the driver sped up, and by the time I was at the edge of town, his tail lights were disappearing in the distance. I told the dispatcher that I couldn’t safely keep up, but that I would drive to the end of Sandy Creek Drive to see if I could see where he went. After that, I looped around and came back into town on the freeway.

Midday Thursday I was driving to McAlester to cover a playoff basketball game when I heard a scanner call about a crash on Sandy Creek Bridge. The reporting party was too upset to give many useful details to dispatchers. I called my office and got a reporter to go out to it.

The reporting party was the victim’s mother, who had gone out the next day looking for her son who had not come home. Apparently after speeding off out of sight ahead of me on Sandy Creek Road, his vehicle struck the bridge pillar on the left side of the road, causing the vehicle to flip into the creek bottom, killing the occupant. From my point of view, coming by just seconds later, he had just vanished.

Here is what we published in Friday’s paper:

“For an unknown reason, the subject departed the left side of the roadway striking a bridge concrete rail pillar on old Sandy Creek bridge, overturning the vehicle one-half time in the creek bottom, coming to rest on its side,” Oklahoma Highway Patrol Trooper Rob Benedict said.

OHP Troop F Captain Ronnie Hampton said the crash could have occurred anytime between the night before and when he was found by family members who were searching for him. They found the wrecked vehicle at 12:34 p.m. Thursday.

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