five years ago: a personal story

On this day five years ago, my mom was on her way to my apartment; we had dinner plans with her girlfriend, Ruth, and her daughter, Jessica. My mom was just a few blocks away, heading to the bank before she came to my place, when a drunk driver (understatement of the century… she wasn’t just drunk, she was passed out at the wheel at 6:00 on a Wednesday night after polishing off a bottle of vodka) ran through (and over) a stop sign at 40 MPH, T-boning my mom’s Jetta, pushing her into the axle of an oncoming 18-wheeler, and forcing the 18-wheeler to hit the car behind my mom and push it into a telephone pole.

Talk about horrifying.

My mom, who never saw the car coming, passed out immediately from the impact of the crash and doesn’t remember a thing, but when she came to she immediately found her cell phone (tucked into her purse, which was still sitting on the passenger seat beside her) and called me. When she first said she had been in an accident, I thought, oh no, fender bender, but then her voice changed and I quickly became very, very fearful. She managed to tell me where the accident was, so I bolted out my door (yelling to Ruth and Jessica that there was an accident, and to please pull the door shut behind them), sprinted up the street (in heels) towards the sound of the sirens, and was terrified at what I saw before me. The 18-wheeler was blocking the road so I couldn’t even see my mom’s car; I had to run around the truck and through some bushes to see my mom still sitting in her crumpled Jetta. A kind gentleman who witnessed the accident had forced her door open when she came to and was feeling claustrophobic, but she was not allowed to move out of the driver’s seat for fear of injuries.

Nick always says that the worst thing that happened that day was me seeing the whole thing, and I have to agree with him. While my mom’s bruises and (thankfully) minor injuries eventually faded away, the image of that terrifying scene will forever be ingrained in my brain. It has been five years and it still seems like it happened yesterday; I still take extra caution when driving through the intersection where it all happened and can’t help but picture the scene every time I do.

I’ll never forget what happened in those following hours and days, either. I remember weird things, like riding in the front of the ambulance and feeling stunned to learn that drivers really don’t move out of the way for emergency vehicles; I remember my mom being upset that they had to cut her sweater off of her (it was new). I also remember things like strangers comforting me on the side of the road when I wasn’t allowed to stand near my mom, still in the driver’s seat of her poor, totaled Jetta, since there were flammable substances on the road (yeah, that makes a worried daughter feel better).

I remember sitting in the waiting room of the trauma center by myself, still wearing my pink pants and heels, holding onto my mom’s new yellow purse, waiting for George (my now-stepdad) to arrive; I sat waiting to be allowed to see my mom, and trying to convince myself that I’d be okay without a mom if that’s what it had to come to. I remember thinking that maybe women in our family just weren’t supposed to have mothers beyond our early twenties (my mom’s parents both died by the time she was 24). I didn’t want to believe that possible reality, but I was afraid that I may have had to, so I tried to be strong. But really, I was a mess.

Thankfully, as I mentioned above, aside from being extremely bruised on most of her body and sore (she passed out from the pain a few times in the hospital), my mom didn’t suffer any major injuries, though she still has knee issues from her knee slamming into the steering column, pain in her ribs often from where she slammed into the driver’s side door, and she had a concussion. We had both been nervous about possible internal injuries since the impact of the crash was so strong, even though on the surface she didn’t look injured, and waiting for hours to hear that news seemed like weeks. (I knew we had both been thinking about poor Princess Diana, but neither of us wanted to say it.) We later heard that the 19 year-old girl who was in the car that had been pushed into the telephone pole had some pretty bad cuts on her arms from the broken glass, and the truck driver was unharmed — just very shaken up. The accident wasn’t his fault, but clearly he felt very responsible. Out of everyone, the woman who caused the accident was the most injured and required the longest recovery time.

I don’t know if I’ve ever felt quite as much anger as I did when we received the police report a week or so later and found that the 40-something woman who caused the accident had been drunk and passed out at the wheel (up until that point, we didn’t know why she had been speeding and driving so recklessly). Her blood alcohol level was .309 — the legal limit in Pennsylvania is .08, and the police sergeant assigned to the case told us that .5 would have meant death. I was so angry that this woman’s abandon for her own life had harmed the lives of so many others. I don’t want to think about what could have happened if that tractor trailer had been a foot ahead or behind where he was when my mom’s car was pushed into him (yet I think about that all the time). I had many a nightmare where I was in the passenger seat of my mom’s car when the accident occurred, which was where the initial impact was.

I was in therapy for a year to overcome my driving fears after the accident; I didn’t trust anyone on the road and there were many days that I arrived at work in tears after someone cut me off or startled me on the road. I accompanied my mom to the court hearing where we saw Drunk Lady (as she came to be known by me) and my mom had to testify; on our way out of the courtroom I heard Drunk Lady ask her lawyer if she should say something to us as she walked by. I gave her the stink eye and she (smartly) kept moving. As much as I had a lot I’d love to have said to her, she was not worth the breath.

I have zero tolerance for people who drive even a little drunk. And the people who then joke and “brag” about it after the fact, like it’s a badge of honor — well, I’d like to smack them into next Tuesday. There is nothing admirable about doing something so incredibly stupid. Sure, the woman who caused my mom’s accident clearly had a real problem, but you don’t have to be an alcoholic to make a stupid decision involving alcohol.

If ever you’re considering getting behind the wheel after you’ve had even one drink too many, don’t do it. Just don’t. You’re putting your life and countless others at risk, and it is not worth it. Just imagine all of the moments you could be robbing your innocent victims of, and the families that could be forever affected by your choice. Please: be smart, and be safe.

My mom and me at my 2008 wedding, photo by The Wiebners

comments

  1. Thanks for sharing. I teared up at the end…especially when I saw the picture from your wedding. I think of your mom EVERY TIME I pass by that intersection and say a little prayer thanking God she's ok. XOXO

  2. I am so glad that your mom was safe during this horrific accident. This is a great message to everyone who thinks they're okay after "only a couple glasses of wine", etc. We need to get the message out about calling for a cab or a friend to pick you up – it saves lives!

    xo

  3. I've never posted before, but I wanted to say THANK YOU for posting such a personal story. I'm so glad to know that your mom was okay after something so horrifying and I am in 100% agreement with you on drinking & driving. I don't drink anymore (since I was diagnosed with diabetes) and am more than happy to serve as DD to my hubby & friends, even if I'm not out with them. I try to impress upon them that they can (and should) call me any time. Thanks again for sharing.

  4. Wow. As traumatic as this situation was, I'm so glad your mom and everyone else made it out ok, and you learned (and can share) a very valuable lesson. It's too bad so many people will never learn that lesson until it's really too late.

  5. Thank you so much for sharing this message. I am so glad to hear that your mom was ok after the accident–what a scary thing for you to go through. You are very brave to share your story and I am so glad that you did.

  6. I 100% agree. Thank God your mother was okay. My cousin was killed by driver who was under the influence (not of alcohol); he barely had a scratch on him, while she broke her neck and suffocated. It's a terrible, terrible thing when people take their problems onto the road.

  7. brings back memories. my sister was hit by a drunk driver about 10 years ago. that's a story i'll have to share with you another time. makes you thankful for every minute you have with the ones you love.

  8. I am SO glad she's ok! I agree with you 100%. Drunk driving upsets me more than almost anything.

  9. Wow, what a powerful story to tell. And you did it so beautifully and with such a great message. You are a strong women and so is your mom. I'm glad that everything worked out for the positive in the end.

  10. Geez! What a stupid woman to get drunk and get behind the wheel like that! I have the same reaction you do about people who drink and drive. When you get behind the wheel like that, it is not just yourself that you are endangering. My husband feels the same way and therefore won't drink a drop if he knows he has to drive somewhere. I look forward to the day I finally get my license so I can be the designated driver and thank him for all the times he's been smart and done what he can to keep us safe.
    I am so happy your mom was okay! Big hugs to her and to you. The picture of the two of you at your wedding is incredibly sweet. :)

  11. I couldn't agree more. Drunk driving is unacceptable. Rob has a few friends from his younger days who drive drunk way too often. It makes me so angry! One has been pulled over by cops (AND LET GO) three times! Another is on house arrest after multiple DUI's. Another had his license suspended for a while. I keep wishing that they'd learn their lesson. It's one thing to put yourself in harm's way, but to risk the lives of others? How thoughtless can you be?! I just hope that if any of them get into an accident, they hurt only themselves. They'd deserve it.

  12. So glad everything is ok. What a horrible accident. Thanks for sharing.

  13. hmmm…I had forgotten it was today! Just some added perspective: I still have aches on the whole left side of my rib cage that slammed into the driver side door. And 'bruised' is a little mild: I had dark ugly bruising on just about my entire torso, both arms, and 1/2 of one leg – that knee still swells when I'm on it too much.
    oh, and a concussion! Out of work for 6 weeks, but the mental stuff was so much worse, as Brooke said! LOVE, BROOKE'S MOM

  14. That was such a personal story and I think it's important that people realize that what a few drinks can actually do to a person. Thanks for sharing. I'm so glad everything is closer to being the way it was before the accident.

  15. Wow. Good for you and your mom for sharing the story with such articulateness and passion. Let's all be more careful on the road today, even sober, and let's all give our loved ones a hug.

  16. Wow. That is an incredible story and it makes the wedding photo with you and your mom all the more special. It's amazing how moments like that can still feel so real years later. I have a similar experience with the day my dad had a heart attack.

  17. My brother was hit by a drunk driver while riding a bike not too long ago- the guy stumbled out of his car afterward and actually yelled at my brother bc his bike was stuck underneath the bumper. He tried multiple times to leave the scene but was too drunk to walk or get back into the car.

    The guy ended up getting off without even paying a medical bill or replacing my brothers bike- even when he was on probation for a previous drunk driving arrest. It is such a shame that there are so many selfish and stupid people in the world. So grateful for happy endings in these circumstances.

  18. Thank you so much for sharing this touching story and how you have learned to cope.

    Question for you — I know you mentioned going to therapy, but aside from the site of the accident, have you truly overcome driving paranoia? My high school boyfriend of 3 years was killed by a drunk driver, and even though I will drive when necessary, I still hate it and am not nearly as aggressive as I should be in the city. I haven't owned a car since I moved to DC 9 years ago and LOVE it, but when I finish down here, I'll be moving up to the Philly area where my husband is doing his residency, and he plans to buy a home on the Main Line. Obviously, I'll need a car.. and the thought of having to drive every day really overwhelms me. I don't know if I just need to drive on a regular basis to adjust to the fact, or if this is something that's going to follow me around forever.

  19. I had a friend in high school who got in a bad car accident, and had driving phobias for years after her accident. It was very crippling, scary, and life-changing for her.

    I read this post earlier today, and have been thinking about it all day. I am so glad your mom was okay, and that no one was seriously injured. Drunk driving is no joke. You are an amazing writer, and I love that picture of you and your mom.

  20. Thanks, everyone. I realize that too many people have similar stories, and many stories don't have the fortunate outcome that ours did. There is certainly no excuse for drunk driving.

    @EthidiumBromide – wow, I am so sorry for your loss, that must have been terrible to go through. In terms of overcoming driving paranoia, it has taken me a while. I did opt to get a car that sits higher up so I don't feel so invisible on the road — I used to drive a Civic, now I drive a CR-V. I still occasionally feel nervous to drive on unfamiliar highways or in the city, but it comes and goes. The area where I live isn't bad, but driving in center city Philly still stresses me out, mostly because I don't drive around there often enough to be really familiar with the roads and that's when I get flustered. Having a GPS has helped me a lot, because at least I have more warning when I need to be in a certain lane or something for an exit, but of course that doesn't make up for the jerks on the road. When I see someone driving recklessly, it makes me really mad, and close calls have definitely brought me to tears more than once… but when I see someone driving crazy on a highway, I just get in the right lane, let them pass me, and try to focus on keeping myself safe. I think it will always be a little bit of a struggle on occasion, but overall time has helped a lot. In terms of you needing to drive more when you move up here, I'm happy to tell you all of my favorite back roads to avoid the crazies :) I also highly recommend GPS if you don't have one – it helps to at least feel more confident in where you're going so you can otherwise focus on your safety and the drivers around you.

  21. Thank you for sharing such a personal story.. I can't imagine being in your shoes that day and am so glad your mom was ok. There is never an excuse to drive drunk or under the influence of anything, unfortunately some people never learn.

  22. My husband's father was killed by a drunk driver when he was 11. I never fully realized the consequences of driving even "just buzzed", until I met him and heard his story. Glad your mom is ok and was able to share your wedding.

  23. I am so glad that your mom is ok! That sounds so terrifying for you both! I have never been behind the wheel after drinking, and am happily the designated driver for Jason and most of my friends. I never mind giving up a night of drinking to make sure we all get home safely.

    I was hit by a semi truck (not a drunk driving accident) ten years ago, and I still have a huge amount of anxiety any time I am next to a semi on the road or highway. It's a very scary feeling! That truck didn't even stop! eep.

  24. Brooke, thank you so much for sharing your story. I'm touched by the way you've written about the incident and the way that the trauma has affected your life– but moreso by the strength you've found to process your emotions and channel your anger into passion for a cause. Sorry for the social worker speak, I can't help it :)

  25. I'm so glad your mom (and you!) was okay! Thanks for sharing your story.

  26. So glad to hear this story has a happy ending. I remember hearing some of the waitstaff brag about driving drunk and getting away with it when I was working up in WA at a resort, and I never understood what they were so "proud" of. Knowing stories like yours will help me lend a personal note to my arguments that driving drunk is nothing to brag about.

  27. I am just going through old posts of yours. I'm truly truly sorry Brooke.
    Janna

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