There I Was....

  • Published
  • 53rd Wing
I can only say, "Thank God I was wearing my seat belt." 

We've all heard the wear-your-seat-belt declarations, but in that one instance when you needed it, and you remembered to put it on, you were glad you did. 

It was May 17, 2006. I had to be at Eglin AFB, Fla., early to practice for the upcoming 53rd Wing Change of Command ceremony. Instead of sitting down to breakfast, I made myself a waffle and some ice tea and got into my truck to head to work. 

Coming from Crestview, Fla., I had a 30-minute drive to work on Highway 85. The posted speed limit for most of the highway is 65 mph; however, the average actual traffic speed tends to be closer to 75-80 mph. The road was not in the best condition, either. There were major turnoffs that didn't have a turn lane, and there appeared to be a large gap between the road surface and the grass on the edges. During my travels to Eglin, I had either seen or been caught in backed-up traffic due to accidents on this highway. 

I never imagined that I would be in an accident causing such a delay in the morning commute for so many people. 

Shortly after turning south onto Highway 85, I looked over to my passenger seat and grabbed the waffle I had brought for breakfast. It was no more than 20 seconds, or so I thought, when all of a sudden I was headed off the side of the road toward a mile-marker sign. I then committed the cardinal sin of driving -- I jerked the wheel to the left to get back on the road. 

I was traveling 65 mph when I started to skid. Suddenly, I was going across the flow of traffic. To make matters worse, I repeated my mistake by jerking the wheel to the right to try to stop the skid. 

The skidding stopped, but only after my driver's side rear tire caught a pothole on the left side of the road. The next thing I knew, I heard a crunch and fell into my door as the truck started the first of two and-a-half rolls. As the truck was rolling over, I let go of the steering wheel and held on to the seat belt to brace myself for the ride of my life. 

I never really understood how seat belts worked until I was in the middle of this rolling motion. As the truck was rolling over, it felt as if the seat belt was retracting to hold me in my seat. I hit my left ribs on the door handle in the initial roll. After that, the seat belt held me in place as it was designed to do. 

When the vehicle stopped, I was upside down, and the truck was facing north in the middle of the southbound lane. 

Thankfully everyone behind me had enough time to stop. As soon as the truck stopped rolling, I performed a quick self-check and realized I was OK and could move all of my limbs. I heard a hissing sound and thought I'd better get out of the truck before it possibly blew up. I released the seat belt and fell down out of the seat. I noticed the driver's side window was crushed to the point that I would not fit through it. I had to crawl to the back of the cab and get out through the driver's side rear window. 

After I made it out, I was shocked that I had made it out alive. There were pieces of my truck scattered all along the highway. The traffic was stopped about 150 yards back from my truck and there were debris all the way back to that point. It wasn't until I saw pictures of the vehicle that I realized how wearing my seat belt and traveling at the speed limit had saved my life. 

Had I not put on my seat belt and complied with the speed limit, I could have been thrown about the cab, if not out of the truck, and received more injuries than a couple broken ribs and a scraped finger. The passenger side of the cab was crushed down to the seat backs, and all of the windows were blown out. 

To this day, I never put my car into drive until all passengers in the vehicle are buckled up. This accident was an eye-opener for me and my family. We're just thankful the safety equipment installed in my truck worked as it was designed.