January 22, 2004 - U.S.131 NB - 3 Miles south of Big Rapids, Michigan
Michael, Ellen and I were traveling north on U.S.131 on our way to Ferris State University . Michael had a tryout with the football team that morning at 10:00AM. We were 3 miles south of Big Rapids when Michael and I noticed a car on it ' s top. We assumed that the driver must have been careless since we hadn ' t had any trouble at all. We don ' t make those assumptions any more.
100 yards later we were skating. First a slight turn to the left then a slow 180 to the right. The cement pillars holding up the overpass ahead of us seemed to be the target. I grabbed the steering wheel with both hands and yelled, "hang on, we ' re going in." I waited for the dull thud of the Jeep slamming into the pillars. I was pretty sure I ' d feel it hit me in the shoulder, so i hunkered down as much as possible hoping my head would hit the padded inside of my door and not the concrete.
But the Jeep flipped on it ' s top when it hit the snow. I only saw a wash of white and heard the smashing glass and the low whoosh of the snow piling into the passenger compartment. The low thud never came. (Talk about angels unaware). As nearly as we can determine, the back passenger quarter panel hit one of the pillars right at the axel which the counter rotated the vehicle causing the front fender to hit the same pillar. That caused the jeep to bounce back on it ' s side. The windows were smashed out somewhere in the sequence and snow packed into the interior nearly pinning Ellen in the seat behind me. I was covered as well with this hard-packed snow from the plows pushing it into the ditch over the last few days. It was packed with dirt and a lot of glass. (My Yankees stocking cap saved my poor head from getting cut.) At 5 degrees outside we felt the ravages of winter in a quick hurry. I knew we had to move quickly to get everyone up and out of the snow.
Michael, all 290 pounds of him, was hanging above me. I asked if he was okay almost at the same time he asked his mother if she was all right. I actually felt happiness when I heard their responses. Weird, but I was energized. I felt so incredibly blessed to be alive. It was similar to coming to the end of a ride on one of those huge roller coasters at Cedar Point knowing that although the excitement is over it was a lot of fun to go through the experience. (Michael and Ellen ' s opinions may be different!)
I crawled out of my seat and stood on the snow piled on the inside of my door while reaching up to open the passenger door, now at the top. Michael helped push the door up while remaining suspended from the seat belt and shoulder harness. A gentleman named Bob, who stopped to help held the door open while I jumped up and out. Then Michael released his belt and jumped out too.
Ellen was packed in the snow in the back seat and had some trouble releasing her seat belt. But after a few struggles Mike reached down into the back and pulled her out.
We walked away with only a minor scratch on Ellen ' s hand. Two gentlemen helped tremendously. There are angels everywhere it seems. Bob, an employee of Universal Products in Howard City kept us warm in his delivery van and eventually took us into Big Rapids. Thanks Bob. I must also say that I ' m very impressed with the Jeep Liberty. All of the damage is on the outside. The passenger compartment kept us solidly held. It ' s a fine vehicle and I ' ll buy another one.
The Montcalm county sheriff was very helpful and considerate. He had reported on six similar accidents before us that morning and while we were sitting there four other vehicles went into the ditch. Overall more than a dozen vehicles suffered a similar fate to ours. All in a five mile stretch of U.S. 131 around Big Rapids.
Wow, what a morning. It was very exciting. Especially that 10 or so seconds from starting to skate until coming to rest.
After finishing up the paperwork with the sheriff and the tow company, Bob, the man from Universal Products, took us to the Shell store at the Big Rapids exit. Ellen is a district manager for Walters Dimmick Petroleum, the owner of that Shell store. Vickie, the store manager, loaned me her truck and Michael and I proceeded to Wheeler pavilion where he met up with the football staff and the other participants in the tryout sessions. (Thanks to Jeff Pierce and Ken Conlin for being very considerate and understanding.) Michael did well during the tryouts despite the shake up.
Black Ice. You can ' t see it. But it ' s there. If you see someone in the ditch, slow down. Don ' t assume it won ' t happen to you and that they were being careless. It can happen to you. In a heartbeat (thank God I still have one, too!).