Friday, November 17, 2006

Hit and run

It's been three years since I've been witness to a traffic accident here, so I had kind of forgotten how disturbing the experience can be. This one was particularly heinous, because it happened five feet in front of me.

It was about a quarter to six and the sun had already set. I was driving north through Teaneck, in a middle-class neighborhood on a main traffic route through town. I had just gone to the gym and had stopped off at a drugstore to pick up some things, and was planning to go to a bakery to pick up some pan de sal that Pam likes to eat for breakfast. I was stopped at the head of the line at a traffic light, and a young man, maybe 13 years old, was crossing the street in front of me just as the lights were about to change. From the cross street, traveling at a high speed, came a black light truck making a left turn - hitting the pedestrian with a loud sound.

I pulled the van out of gear and got out. The truck had hesitated by the side of the road a few car lengths behind, and I tried to make out the license plate. "V - O - M ..." Then he stepped on the throttle and left the scene: it was a hit and run.

I went back around to the front of the van and was looking underneath, because I thought the victim might have been thrown beneath my grill. Nobody there - what the hell? Then I saw him over on the side of the road, standing somewhat crouched over, so I went over to see how he was. I had actually expected more grievous or fatal injuries judging from the impact, but at first glance he didn't seem to have serious fractures or lacerations by some miracle. Another pedestrian, a woman about my age, was there asking him how he was feeling. She had already called the emergency 911 service and they were dispatching aid, so I put my phone away. The boy seemed to be relatively aware of his surroundings (he said he lived nearby and was able to give his name) so I don't think he'd had a head trauma.

Another person came up, a young woman, having seen the accident. She was crying, asking how someone could hit an innocent person and just drive off. I sort of knew the reason why, since the driver would likely have faced serious consequences from the accident, especially if they had a bad record, which seemed likely. I didn't advance this theory aloud, though.

All through this my van was blocking traffic. I'd fumbled when attempting to put my emergency flashers on and some people were starting to get annoyed and started honking as they went around. On the other hand, another driver called out as they went by "I saw the whole thing!" so not everyone was callous.

A Teaneck police officer arrived, lights flashing, and we told him what had happened and tried to give a description of the perpetrator. In addition to my partial plate number, one other person said that those were Jersey plates, and distinctly remembered a small mirrorball hanging from the driver's rear-view mirror. "He went that way!"

I took advantage of a lull in the action to get back into my vehicle and pull over into a parking lot. More emergency responders came, firetrucks and EMTs who assessed the boy's condition and set up a gurney for him to be transported to the hospital. I went back up to the police officer and gave him my statement and my business card. I hope they catch the offender and call me to the trial.

Now, ordinarily I'm among those decrying the surveillance regime creeping everywhere into urban life, but this one time I would have been grateful for a better means to identify the bad guy than trying to strain my eyes to read a license plate. I've always thought that if I were interested in becoming a criminal, I would want to have a vanity plate like IO1 0II or O00 0O1 or something equally hard to read. If I had the time I would have reached for my work camera in the back of the van or even my cameraphone and tried to snap a picture or two of the truck, but one only thinks of these things in retrospect.

To be better prepared for the next time, (and there probably will be a next time, judging from the congestion around here) I think I should study up on some elementary emergency training should I need it. And if I am the victim that time, inshallah, I'll be pleased if I can make it through the experience too thanks to the help of professional first responders and concerned strangers.


Kelley said...

Good for you for stopping! My husband and I always stop and offer our card/phone number when we witness an accident. No one has ever called us to testify, but it's good to know that we'd be there if they needed us.

I haven't been in a wreck since I was 16-yrs-old (knock on wood), but the latest claim I filed was because my car was "hit and run" in a PARKING LOT. My entire hood was crunched by someone who just drove off while I was shopping.

This is where I sing the praises of AMICA car insurance. They were amazing - that was the first year that I used them, and their customer service can't be beat.

RichM said...

Well, it happened just a few feet in front of me, so I didn't think I couldn't not stop. Maybe if there were two or three cars ahead of me I just would have driven around like the other drivers.

Even now, a couple of days later, I'm a little apprehensive about driving through that intersection.