Two people are lucky to be alive tonight.

I was returning home just after midnight from dinner at a friend’s, southbound on I15 past Mercy Rd / Scripps Poway Parkway in San Diego. As I came up out of the ‘valley’, I noticed a car stopped at the Mira Mesa exit lane, in the road or perhaps partially on the shoulder. I was in the slow lane going 65mph. The driver proceeded to pull out, and much to my surprise, continued pulling thru the exit lane and started arcing perpendicular to the road. Inexplicably, they were trying to make a U-turn on the freeway!

I veered towards the fast lanes as quickly as I could, but it was not quick enough. Collision inevitable, I slammed on the brakes and continued angling towards the HOV exit. She – I later found out it was a ‘she’, mentioned only for pronoun accuracy – made full frontal impact into my right-front corner. She was starting her U-turn arc from a partial stop and was probably going less than 20, but my freeway speed had likely only dropped to 45 even with the stomp on the brakes. I’m not sure if I spun or merely bounced, but the impact left me 90 degrees off the direction I was veering, straddling the 2 fast lanes, completely disabled. The engine wouldn’t turn, and neither would the wheels – left side severely toed-in and right tire crumpled into the wheel well.

Amazingly, the other driver continued with their U-turn and then proceeded to limp down the freeway going the wrong direction. At the time of impact, there were few others on the road. But post-collision, traffic started to pick up. As the car disappeared down into the Mercy Rd valley, I was both angry that she was trying to leave the scene (and was apparently going to “get away with it”), and scared for her safety and others as she faced down oncoming traffic.

Once she cleared from view, focus turned to my own predicament. People were emerging from the “event horizon” at high rates of speed, only to frantically swerve when they realized a dead car was in their path. I felt so vulnerable. I turned on flashers, I honked the horn for attention. Should I get out of the car? And do what exactly? Streak across 4 lanes to the safety of the shoulder?!? To my left were the HOV lanes, and plastered across a hood at high speed was not any better of a choice. A passing rice-burner nearly took out the driver’s side door, going 80mph and swerving at the last possible second, so that put an end to any such thought of running. Always stay in your car, they say. They are right.

Thankfully I was wearing a seatbelt. My belongings were scattered by the impact, so I fumbled around looking for my phone. Once found on the floorboards, I called 911 and Police dispatch answered. I feared for my own safety, and I should have said so. Instead, I somewhat calmly stated that I was “on the freeway and…”. That’s all I got out. Once dispatch heard ‘freeway’, they instantly transferred me to the CHP line, which took forever to be answered. While on pseudo-hold, shock of shocks, I watched my new U-turn friend putter down the slow lane – going the proper direction this time – sparks flying from the front end. It reminded me of something straight out of a British sitcom, and if I wasn’t so terrified of being rear-ended at 70mph, I would have laughed.

CHP officers arrived within minutes after the call was eventually answered. Finally the adrenaline stopped pumping. One vehicle ran a serpentine break to stop traffic, while another used his to push mine to the shoulder. (In as much as was possible, given that I was permanently askew with the wheels completely locked.) As a 3rd officer took my description of the accident, I heard on the police radio first a citizen report of a wrong-way driver at Mercy, and then of a disabled car on the Mira Mesa offramp. Thank God she was safe. And thank Justice she did not get away.

And thank the fates of IT as well, because for any other typical Fri night dinner I would have had my dogs in the car. But a network problem had me working late, not able to go home to pick up the pups. They would have been tossed like rag dolls if they had been with me. So that’s more than just 2 lucky to be alive.

My back is slightly stiff, and both knees feel like I strained something trying to do a Fred Flintstone. My right wrist is sore where it was on the steering wheel on impact, and the seatbelt gave me a slight bruise across the ribs. But nothing worth a hospital visit. (The firemen and EMTs on-scene looked so disappointed to not be needed. But seriously, thank you for coming.)

The other driver appeared to be ambulatory as well. Certainly well enough for what looked like a field sobriety test.

What if there were more cars around us at the time of veer & impact? What if I had T-boned directly into her driver’s side door? What if she hit someone else head-on while going the wrong way? What if my lights stopped working when the engine died, providing no warning in the darkness to other drivers? What if someone plowed into the HOV divider trying to avoid me? What if I got slammed while disabled in the fast lane? My mind is racing with all the bad things that could have happened, but didn’t. This was a potential jaws-of-life situation in the making, a lead story averted on the nightly news. Tonight was bad, for sure. But not as bad as it could have been. Amen. Hallelujah.

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