Brush with Death in Z-24 Chevy Cavalier
Kirkland, New York: Long Insightful Story Below!!!
"Jaws of Life" (hydraulic cutting equipment) was set up.... extinguishers were strategically placed.... There was a smell of leaking gasoline"
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It was hellishly humid by midday on that September 9th, following a torrential rain that swelled the Oriskany Creek to near overflow conditions and made road surfaces treacherous with a thin coat of water. I had planned on meeting a friend of mine in a city about 20 miles away to help him look for a new car, then to do a bit of shopping on my own. I overslept that morning and was running late so I ignored the poor road conditions and headed to the city at a normal speed. I can remember thinking to myself along the way as the water beat against the undercarriage of my car that I should slow down or I might get into an accident. I did slow down a bit, but unfortunately not enough.
At about 11:30 am the fire horn sounded in the town of Clinton, as it does at least once and as often as a half a dozen times a day. The emergency 911 dispatcher reported a motor vehicle accident on Austin Road, a steep, curving, sweeping roadway off Lumbard Road in the southern end of Kirkland, New York. The dispatcher reported that it was believed that there were no survivors.
After a rain, there are usually a number of motor vehicle accidents. Motorists may be driving a bit too fast for conditions, as I was that day. It's not uncommon for a car's tires to hit a slick portion of the highway, suddenly sending the car and driver into a spin-out that often winds up with nothing more serious then property damage.
But on September 9th , I wasn't so lucky. This emergency call became a life-and-death situation, one requiring not only rapid deployment of manpower and equipment, but also a level of expertise that comes with experience, training and 100% commitment.
My 1984 Z-24 Chevy Cavalier flew sideways off the downhill side of Austin Road and slammed into a huge ash tree splitting its trunk, as well as my car, in two.
The impact sent pieces of metal sheared from my car high into a pine tree, and cut the vehicle in half, wrapping sections around the tree that it struck. The trunk of the ash tree was protruding from the debris just behind the driver's seat missing my skull by mere centimeters. I was trapped inside the claustrophobic one-foot by one-foot portion of the twisted hulk that had not collapsed on itself. Alone, ensnared in a space no larger than a child's toy box that was quickly filling with cold water and the smell of gasoline and blood, I fought my fear, struggling to maintain consciousness, barely clinging to life.
Even if I had been coherent enough to call 911 on my cell phone I would not have been able to reach it. My driver's seat had been dislodged and shifted onto my center console concealing my lifeline beneath it.
The first men to find my car were Donald Brown and his son. The men didn't usually drive down Austin Road but due to the rain that day they had taken a van full of tools to help pump out some of the flooded cellars of the surrounding homes. Because the van was so high up the Browns were able to see the wreckage of my car from the road as they passed by, had they not I am certain that I would not be telling this story today. Neither man paused to consider his own safety, let alone that they may know the driver trapped in the wreckage. Only after using the equipment from their van to break out the windshield, which was forcing the steering wheel down onto my chest, did they recognize my blue face inside. Both men stayed with me in the pouring rain until I began breathing again, they were able to get the attention of a resident on Austin Road and where sure that she had called 911 and that an ambulance was on its way.
Clinton firefighters responded to the emergency call minutes after it was dispatched. All left their families and friends knowing that they would compromise their safety, and possibly their lives to save a stranger. Without a second thought they scrambled down the steep embankment to secure steel cables to the car so it wouldn't slide further into the now overflowing ravine.
The car, itself, looked like a beer can after it has been crushed with a foot. None of the firefighters were certain how many people were in the car or if any of them had survived.
Clearly, it was a scene of absolute devastation and the first reaction by many was: "No one could survive an impact and mangling like this one." Residents on Austin Road who had called 911 after being flagged down by Don Brown, stood on the side of the road. Two women were unashamedly crying. One took deep breaths between her sobs.
The firefighters methodically went about their jobs. "Jaws of Life" (hydraulic cutting equipment) was set up, tie lines were secured, extinguishers were strategically placed in the event the hot engine block ignited. There was a smell of leaking gasoline.
It was hot and sticky and everyone was sweating profusely under his or her heavy fire equipment. I however was beginning to shiver with cold as my body slipped further into shock. I still wake up some nights in a cold sweat with the sound of tearing metal resonating in my ears. I remember the nauseating realization that I was going to die.
I showed no sign of life, but then I heard one firefighter yell: "She's alive. She's alive. Let's get her out." I don't know if he actually saw signs of life or if he was just willing it to be so but that man saved my life. With newfound energy the firemen began the tediously difficult and dangerous task of extricating me from the rubble. I was trapped, completely immobilized, inside the front section of the twisted wreckage that was wrapped around the tree. I was bleeding, I was in shock and immense pain, but I was alive. I myself struggled with what little energy I had to get free. My mind numb from the trauma of the accident, I lacked any comprehensive thought at that point. I remember being convinced that they thought that I was dead and were taking too long to get me free. I thought that the only thing standing in the way of my release was the gas petal holding down my ankle. In reality the gas petal wasn't even touching my ankle, it was the fragments of bone and the searing pain from each of the two places that the tibia had been broken that created the illusion of captivity in my mind.
The next hour and a half was like a nightmare in slow motion. Firefighters had to cut away the entire car. I was wedged in the driver's seat under the steering wheel and dashboard, struggling for each breath.
The rescue team worked quickly to cut away the roof and the driver's side panels and the windshield frame and trunk hood.
Suddenly, my blond head fell onto the shoulder of a Clinton firefighter, who cradled me and spoke softly and gently assuring me that I was not going to die as his colleagues continued to cut away the metal that imprisoned my legs. An oxygen mask was placed over my face I pushed it away feeling suffocated screaming that I couldn't breathe. The minutes ticked away. Now that I look back on the events of that day I see how textbook my reactions were. I remember being told in my own EMT class only a year earlier that many victims will fight an oxygen mask for fear that it will restrict their breathing further. At the time I couldn't comprehend this reaction. It seemed ludicrous to me for a suffocating person to refuse oxygen, now I understand. Nothing makes sense to you when your body is so over come by pain and fear. All of my energy was so concentrated on maintaining the simple acts of life that I had taken for granted for the past 18 years, and the thoughts that I would never see my loved ones again, that I was unable to even respond to my own name.
Nearly two hours after the emergency call was made, I was freed, carefully slid onto a backboard, placed in a special carrier, and carted up the slope to a waiting COCVAC ambulance.
I was screaming in pain as the paramedics cut my clothes away from my broken body. I fought them as they gave me several IV's; at that point I was sure that if I had to endure any more pain I would surely die. As we approached the hospital the morphine began to take effect. I have vague memories of the barrage of tests and x-rays that I was subjected to as well as what seemed like an endless flow of well-wishers, family and friends. -Shannon
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Comments from viewers:
Eddie 12/15/06- Hi, I just wanted to comment on the accident taking place in Clinton, New York.
I myself life in Clinton...and I'm familiar with that dreaded fire siren that goes off in town. The roads around here can get wicked bad when there's rain...it's really easy to wrap your car around a tree. Some of my friends have hit things but none as bad as this. I just hope none of them ever do. I like to speed but if it's dangerous, don't drive like an idiot. Thanks, love the site.
John 11/23/07 This is the best story on your web site!!!! Incredible Survival story Shannon!!!!
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