Monday, November 26, 2007

Too late for a lecture

I look at the scene. We couldn't get close enough to be sure anyone was in it until the fire brigade had been at it for a while damping it down. But even with the heat and the force of the crash, there's still an unmistakable outline in the charred, melted cabin.

I look back down the road . I've heard the accounts from the witnesses who don't know whether to be angry or sad, and just stand there continually rubbing their eyes and running their hands across their head. His friend is just up the road, customised car with aftermarket alloys now sat quietly by the side verge. He saw what happened in his mirror and turned round, but too late to help. There are small pools on the carriageway from where he's thrown up.

I can picture the last moments. What was a bit of "fun", a quiet road with no-one else seemingly around. A friend in the car next to you, having a bit of a race up the road to see who's got the faster car off from the roundabout. You've got dads car, you know its a good one. You've had a good night, no drinking involved, you never do that. You're feeling good. Can't lose.

Except that that gentle curving bend isn't so gentle when you get up to speed. That traffic island you didn't see round the bend is coming up quick, bloody quick. But the road is wet. Suddenly at this speed with heavy panicked braking and slipperiness the road camber plays a crucial part. You're on the wrong side of the road. That slight slope engineered into the tarmac is now a deadly factor in the laws of friction and physics.

The back end's gone. This suddenly isn't fun any more. You're off the tarmac. Onto wet, slippy grass. Don't matter what you do with the steering wheel now.

You look up and have just enough time to take one last sharp breath in as you realise that its all gone so terribly, terribly wrong.

Not a single panel of the car is left untwisted or buckled. Parts of the car are spread over dozens maybe hundreds of yards. The fuel tank is split open and with a disintegrating red hot engine all around the spark is soon a consuming fire.

A single branch, barely a big twig, is knocked off the tree. In a weeks time, the only clue to the tragedy will be the blackened bark. Come a few months, only those who were there and those who have lost will know the horror that tree has seen.

I walk over to the smouldering wreck. I want to reach in and shake him, shout at him not to do it, don't race, as though I can go back through time and change what has happened. But I know I can't. The governor is here barking out orders. I wander back down the road to make sure all the cordons and logs are in place, witness details are registered, make sure people have got warm clothes as they're going to be there a long time. I start thinking where I can go and get some hot drinks for the troops later. They'll need them.

There's nothing we can do for the driver. The ambulance crews find something to do looking after the shell shocked witnesses. Its now a case of preserving every piece of scattered metal and plastic, each furrowed track on the verge, waiting for the time when every piece will be documented, logged, and meticulously photographed.

I want to take the mental image I have, somehow transfer it to paper and show it to the next one stopped for driving like an idiot, who thinks it acceptable nay encouragable to show off, to drive a car to its limit, and who surrounds himself with people who think likewise. Somehow make him understand that the driver of this one thought exactly the same thing 10 seconds before his final inglorious end.