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February 2011

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After reading many of the accident stories on the site, I felt it was time to submit my own. Along with the pictures is an essay that I wrote for my senior english class.

My most emotional personal experience occurred only a couple weeks into the beginning of my teen years. It was August 21st, 2006. I had only just turned 13. My mother, sister, and I where driving down to Lake Tahoe, California, where my grandparents own a cabin that we spend our vacations at almost every summer…

We set out on our voyage in a white 1997 Nissan Altima Sedan that my family had just purchased for my Dad’s job only five days earlier. Straying from our typical route, we decided to stop by Crater Lake, which none of us had ever seen before. It seemed ridiculous that none of us had ever visited the deepest lake in the world, considering we reside in the same state.

On the way down from the lake, we were worried as it was beginning to get dark and we had yet to make it through the dangerous winding mountain roads that lie just before Tahoe. We stopped at a gas station to fill up on snacks and fuel. Although I vaguely remember how the conversation was started, we talked to a friendly man there who mentioned a back road that would cut off at least an hour of our trip time. It was called California state route 139. State route 139 hadn’t seen much regular use since its initial installation back in the 1940’s. It stretches between Redding, CA where we began and Susanville, CA.

Halfway down the highway, as night was just beginning to fall on the stretch of quiet (almost deserted) road in front of us, the scenery consisting of nothing but rocks, dust, and endless amounts of brush. My mom had been driving for several hours, and was feeling tired. She decided it would be better for my 16 year-old Sister who had just recently received her license to drive the next hour. My mom pulled off to the side of the road on a corner of the highway. Behind us, several yards back, lay a bulldozer, and other Caltrans maintenance equipment that looked as though it hadn’t seen use for a while.

I pulled out my laptop and started playing a DVD that I had bought at blockbuster the day before. Ironically, the movie was Crash.

The next 10 seconds would simply change my life forever. My sister, who was always a safe driver, checked her mirrors, flicked on her left turn signal, and pulled onto the highway. It wasn’t more than 10 seconds or so after that we suddenly lost control of the back tires. My sister, being a young driver, immediately overcorrected and slammed on the brakes as hard as she could. The faulty car had sent us careening left and right down the road. To the left stood a wall of volcanic rock maybe 30 feet tall. To the right, a 10 to 15 foot slope and a field full of staggered rocks, boulders, pounds of sandy dust, and never ending amounts of brush.

I glanced up into the rear view mirror catching sight of the reflection of my terrified sister’s huge eyes bulging out at the road in front of her. She knew she had completely lost control, and in a last ditch attempt to regain control of the vehicle, my mom reached over to grab the steering wheel. All this happened so fast, that my young mind didn’t have the time to process all the events that were unfolding so quickly before me, and nothing prepared me for what would happen next.

My Mom’s efforts to regain control had failed. She cried out with one last gasp of breath “Hang on, kids!” As we went flying off the edge of the roadway to the right, rolling our little white sedan down the 15 foot drop through boulders, brush, and barbed wire. After 2 & 1/2 mighty rolls, our little car came to a final rest right side up several hundred feet from the highway. Although I kept my eyes open during the whole ordeal, the interior of what was left of our car was filled with thick dust, which obscured my view.

When the dust had slightly settled, the first thing I saw was the floor mat from under the front passenger seat where my mom was seated, laying in my lap with the silver embossed capital letters ALTIMA staring back at me. I completely blocked out everything that was said for the next 30 seconds. All I could hear was a voice in the back of my head “Get out of the car. You need to get out of the car…” I tend to compulsively lock the door on long trips, and it took me a bit longer to exit the car than my conscience had preferred. I scrambled out of the car for my life, up through the flakes of steel and shards of broken glass, boulders, and brush.

With no cell service for several miles, and very few other passing cars, it took nearly an hour for an ambulance to arrive and an additional 45 minute long ride to the hospital. Miraculously, none of us sustained any serious injuries, and were released from the hospital later that night.

Nothing could have prevented the cars mechanical failure. But if it weren’t for the help of the older couple in the sea foam green Camry that passed by and called the ambulance for us, or the generosity and kindness of the hospital staff, the experience could have been far more traumatic.

From the experience, I learned that life, like our little car, can turn completely upside down, and land right side up, in a matter of seconds. I’m the same person, but changed. I went from being a kid who took his family and life for granted, to a teenager who recognizes the importance of family, and… seatbelts.

To paraphrase Jack Canfield in The Secret: “Think about this, picture a car driving at night, and the headlights only go 200ft in front of you. If you’ll just trust that the next 200ft will unfold, and the next


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