I was one freeway exit away from my employer. It was the early pre-dawn hour, and I was heading in to work for a 6 am shift.
The freeway was quiet, and I was driving along alone for several miles. The professional microphone operator was spouting his opinion over the radio. I was half-listening, and half-reflecting on the weather we’d been having.
The forecast the day before had called for an inch of snow to be on the ground this morning. That might have been true in some areas, but where I was there was only a little moist mist during the night. The freeway road was dry, and I specifically remember thinking how glad I was not to have a slick commute.
Then, in the dark, driving along, it appeared just like a deer in the headlights – mostly because it was just that, a deer in my headlights. It was standing in my lane, a few feet in front of me. The animal was facing the inside lane, as if its intention was to cross the freeway, but it had stopped here for whatever reason.
I tend to drive slower than most people (doing 60 – 65 in the 65 mph zone – yes, I’m one of THOSE people). But it doesn’t matter if you are doing 60 or 65 or whatever when the deer appears in your headlights, and you have no time to think – only react.
My reaction was what I believe, in hindsight, a good one. I swerved to the right shoulder, to the back of the animal. Had I gone to the left, in front of the deer, and it also decided to move forward, we might have collided. Had I hit the animal straight on in the size of car I drive, I feared I would have knocked out its legs, propelling it directly into my windshield.
Now heading fast toward the shoulder, it occurred to me that I would run off the road. So I attempted to make a correction and move left to return to the lane. In hindsight, this might have been my mistake.
I overcorrected, and began a spin back into the road.
Fortunately, as I mentioned before, the road was very quiet. There was no traffic to collide with, as I found myself turning 180 degrees while I drifted further to the inside. My momentum was too much and eventually I came to a stop by introducing the passenger side of my car to the cement barrier that divided the northbound and southbound traffic. The back corner of the car took the brunt of the impact.
My car pretty much stopped at that point, fairly safe in the small left hand shoulder – with the exception that I was now pointed the wrong direction and facing oncoming traffic. Instinct kicked in, and I turned on my hazard lights, restarted the engine, and tried to pull the car a few inches closer to the side and as far away from traffic as I could determine.
I watched the deer for a few more helpless seconds, but quickly lost track of it. Cars came, and no one seemed to use any unusual evasive action, so I figure it had left the freeway.
I felt my heart beating hard. A few fast seconds, and it was all over. And yet I realized that there was much more I still had to do.
I reached into my pocket for my cell phone. I called 911. I described what had happened, and that no one was hurt. They said they would send the highway patrol.
I called Glorajean and let her know what was happening. She talked with me until I saw flashing lights approaching.
When the police car stopped, I began to step out of the car to greet the officer. He flashed his light at me, and I sensed that he didn’t know what was going on with my situation. I put my hands up where he could see them, and he asked me why my car was parked the wrong way? I explained what happened, as I realized that he was not from the Highway Patrol but instead from a small city police department and happened to be passing that way when he saw me.
He explained that we will want to get my car turned around, as this was dangerous (I’ll forgo the normal sarcastic comment). He then explained what I didn’t know, that when the Highway Patrol came, they would block the lanes and slow down traffic so I could turn around, and then get moved to the right side of the road.
During this waiting I noticed how drivers don’t move over to give extra room when a car is parked to the side of the road – even if that car is facing the wrong direction with hazard lights blinking. Even with the police car and its flashing lights, folks just cruised right by at close proximity instead of moving laterally within their lane.
It took some time for the Highway Patrol to arrive (apparently they were on a traffic stop and that took precedence, and a scheduling problem meant they initially called for an officer who was on vacation that day), but when they did, we worked the plan. I could tell that something was wrong with the alignment of the car as I maneuvered it across lanes of traffic, and again I was surprised by the fact that with two police cars guarding the way behind me, drivers still continued cruising by at full break-neck speed, as if nothing unusual was happening.
The patrol man offered for me to sit in the squad car to fill out the paperwork. He opened the passenger door for me, and my sense of humor kicked in. I replied, “I’d much rather sit in the front seat than in the back!” He smiled and replied that he felt the same way. In a tense moment, it is good to have a laugh.
The tow truck came, and I was on my way, to deal with insurance questions and make decisions about whether to repair or replace the vehicle. That is, after I sprung the car free of the tow yard, where they charged far too much money for the “after-hours” towing. Had I been thinking more clearly, I would have asked to have left the car on the side of the road until after 8:00 am.
In conclusion, Friday the 13th was a lucky day for the deer, and in a lot of ways lucky for me too. I’ve replayed the situation in my mind several times, thinking of what could have been done differently. In the end, the result that I got seems to have been the best one. I was not injured, and there was no other travelers injured either. The car was banged up, but (except for some sentimental attachment) that is ultimately of no consequence. Life went on, and I hugged and kissed my wife and girls again. For all of that, I am grateful!