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Lucky Me, or So I Thought

by Kenneth B. Lourie

What’s your feeling about luck? (“Do you feel lucky, Punk?”) Are you born with it? Or not? And if you’re not, can you earn it or accrue it somehow? If you had it, and you ran out of it (or so you thought), could you replenish it? Does bad behavior diminish what luck you do have, and in contrast, does good behavior enhance what luck yet remains?

Recently I was involved, or should I say as innocently as possible, was a party to an automobile accident where I was extremely lucky. Neither my car nor I suffered a scratch, whereas the other two drivers involved, and their respective automobiles, suffered lots of scratches. In fact, both of their cars were totaled - after a head-on collision - and their physical injuries, though not minimal, were primarily confined to their faces - cheekbone, nose, orbital socket - with no mention of paralysis, loss of brain function or any more catastrophic-type injury. And certainly no death or dismemberment - thank God!

As it happened, I was driving to work, following my normal morning routine. About a quarter-mile from my home, my street T’s into a divided state highway, Route 198, speed limit 45 mph. It was 7:15 a.m., dry and not quite the bright, sunny day it would soon become. As I sat at the stop sign, I looked left to observe the eastbound, oncoming traffic. I noticed a set of headlights far enough away, 50 to 75 yards approximately, in the right lane, that would not have inhibited my crossing 15 yards of pavement before stopping on the median strip break, then looking right for oncoming westbound traffic, before turning left and heading west. And before this final maneuver, certainly I looked back to my left.

The headlights I saw previously still seemed safely off in the distance, so I stepped on the gas to cross the two eastbound lanes. Halfway across, as I was almost entirely in the oncoming left lane, I felt - I saw? I heard? - a car in the left lane that appeared to come out of the blue, almost literally - the sky, the deciduous trees as background, the car’s green color blending.

Immediately I slammed on my brakes. I remember thinking - where’d he come from? I didn’t see any headlights in the left lane, only the right lane. The driver swerved to avoid me, then crossed the grassy median strip, where he skidded and then collided head-on with a westbound driver traveling in the left lane, most definitely in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The whole accident happened in a split second, right in front of my eyes. It was as if I was in the front row of a movie theater. As soon as I saw the collision, I knew there would be injuries. Quickly I parked my car and ran over to check the drivers and their vehicles. (Fortunately there were no other passengers.) Both men were bleeding and not moving. Immediately I called 911 on my cell phone and explained the circumstances.

Within five minutes, police, medical personnel, ambulances, helicopters and emergency rescue teams were on the scene. Both drivers were categorized as “Priority 1” and ambulanced to a Baltimore-area shock trauma facility. I was not cited at the scene, nor was I the least bit injured, physically.

Emotionally was something else.

I had never been in a car accident before where other people were so severely injured. Nor had I been in an accident where, if the timing had been different, I could have been killed (a Nissan Maxima traveling 50 mph hitting a Volkswagen Passat flush in the non-airbag-protected driver’s side door), so I was lucky, darn lucky, but not anymore.

Six days later, after the officer on the scene talked with witnesses, I was ticketed for failing to yield to oncoming traffic. I knew I was lucky the previous Friday, just not sure how responsible. I may have been a trigger, as a safety expert friend of mine described me, but the cause? Time will tell. I just hope my luck hasn’t run out. Nor do I hope that the luck has run out for the other two drivers.

It was an accident, not an on-purpose.

Lourie is a regionally syndicated columnist who resides in Burtonsville, MD.

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