Pay attention when you drive

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Pay attention when you drive

On November 17, 2021, my wife was hit by a car and severely injured while crossing the street in front of our home. The story that follows shows my wife’s courage and determination, but also the politics and carelessness that result when you try to make a change.

Moneyball.

That’s what I was watching. It’s funny how you remember what you were doing when terrible things happen. Who doesn’t remember where they were on 9/11? Works the same for personal tragedies I suppose.

I had no idea what was in store for me that night. I was just on the couch watching Moneyball.

My wife had gone for a walk around our suburban neighborhood, as she does almost every night. And each night, I tell her the same platitude, “Be careful”. I mean it when I say it, but I say it without much thought behind it. Of course she’ll be careful. Of course she’ll be fine. So, out the door she walked.

She needs you.

When the doorbell rang, I thought it was a little early for her to be back. But I opened the door to find a man I didn’t know asking me if my wife had gone out for a walk. I reluctantly answered yes, my stranger danger at an all-time high.

“She’s been hit by a car. She needs you.”

It’s so funny how the human mind works, not accepting things. My first thought was “impossible”. Then I thought this unknown man might be trying to break into the house and catch me off-guard. But my train of thought was derailed by my phone ringing; it was my wife.

“Please come to the street corner right away.”

That was all she said, but I heard the fear in her voice.

I closed the door on the man and proceeded to face my first challenge of the night – my daughter. Do I bring her? I can’t leave her alone, she’s only five. But what’s waiting for us at the corner? I didn’t have time to take her to a neighbor’s house, and it would only make her more afraid. So I made a call that will haunt me the rest of my life. She comes. She would see.

I calmly but quickly got her dressed and told her that mommy needs us. We had to go.

crosswalk
The crosswalk where Corryn was hit.

I didn’t see her

By now, time slowed. I got out of the car and saw my wife in the middle of the road with police standing over her. I knelt by her head, her body clearly in shock.

“My leg is broken.”

I looked at the officer standing close by, then noticed a white Mercedes parked on the shoulder, its side-view mirror laying on the road. Didn’t take long to put together what happened; my wife was hit while crossing the street.

The driver was Matthew Slover, a 31-year-old accountant, and I stepped toward him. But before I got far, I heard my wife’s voice, and then my daughter’s cries. Yelling at Slover (or worse) would change nothing, so I went back by her side.

My daughter, Madison, was at this point hysterical. But I couldn’t be with Corryn and watch her at the same time in the middle of the road, so I handed her to an officer and told her that it would be ok. The next few minutes are a blur. I just remember hearing Madison’s screams on the corner while my wife lay there with blood all over her leg, waiting for the ambulance.

My wife is an amazing mother, always putting Madison first, and here was no different. Before calling me, she had called my parents. They would come help calm Madison. That she had the ability to do this and think of our daughter first while lying in the street with a bone sticking out of her leg truly amazes me.

Once the ambulance came and tended to her, I was able to talk to the police about what happened. Slover had no color in his face.

“I just didn’t see her.”

How, I wondered? She was in a well-lit crosswalk in a residential neighborhood, where you might expect to find people. It was clear that he never even slowed down, and another inch to the right would have meant an even worse fate for my wife.

At the moment, it didn’t matter.

matthew-slover
Matthew Slover’s Mercedes, with the mirror torn off.

Take your time

This story has many heroes, and the first one I’d meet was a medic going with my wife in the ambulance. I couldn’t ride with her because of COVID, so I’d be driving behind.

With Corryn somewhat stabilized, the medic walked over. I’m sure he’d seen the worried look on my face a thousand times, and he pulled me to the side for a simple message.

“You can’t get there any faster than we can. Please take your time, and she’ll be ok.”

His calming voice helped snap me back to reality. Getting in the M3 and dodging traffic wouldn’t matter. I’d ride with my parents and Madison.

One of the million things COVID has brought upon us is another layer of difficulty at the hospital, so once we all arrived, my family stayed in the car while I went by Corryn’s side. I couldn’t believe where I was, or the state my wife was in. I was on the couch an hour ago. What the hell happened?

Being in the hospital as the support person sucks. You feel helpless, and you can’t show how worried you really are. If I could have, I would have switched places with her. But all I could do was sit in an uncomfortable chair for the next nine hours as they set her bone and prepped her for surgery.

The hospital staff was actually amazing, and they helped us feel as though this was a common occurrence to them, which it was. We’ll get to why later.

Early the next morning, they came to take Corryn. Again feeling helpless, all I could do was tell her she’ll be ok, that Madison and I would be waiting there for her. I waited with her as long as I could, but once the nurses said it was time, we said good-bye.

Steel

I’ve been in the unfortunate position of waiting for loved ones to get out of surgery. But it was always planned. Not an emergency like this. So I just walked around the lobby. Outside. The parking deck. I waited, trying not to think of the worst case scenario. It’s all I thought of anyway.

I called friends. Family. Co-workers. One of my oldest friends even made it down to the hospital that day all the way from Philly for support, a true saint.

Still I waited.

After a four-hour operation, the doctor called. Corryn was ok. She needed a steel rod in her leg, and screws to keep it all together. Other injuries as well. The road to recovery would be long. But she was alive.

Mental moments

I can go on and explain how long the process of recovery takes, and how no one is ever put back together 100 percent from such a thing. How my wife has endured grueling physical therapy each day since the accident. The lack of freedom or dignity to even be able to shower on your own. Mustering up the courage to simply walk across the street again. Not being able to go to work. It’s all that, and more.

And that’s the thing about an event like this. It takes a long time to recover, physically and mentally. We have to drive by that crosswalk every day. Sometimes I can just drive past it. But sometimes I stop and think about Corryn lying on the cold asphalt.

Roller shots aren’t as fun as they used to be.

Each time she calls my phone, I hold my breath, expecting terrible news. I wonder if that feeling will ever go away. Hasn’t yet.

And Madison, how did it affect her? She still insists on sleeping with her mom each night because she needs to keep an eye on her.

You realize what a cruel place the world is, more so than before. The responding police detective told my wife to stop screaming. Nothing is really designed for wheel chairs. Everyone looks at you with pity or disdain. Instead of kindness, we found indifference and ignorance.

Audi
In the year since this happened, nothing has changed. People still speed through.

The law was indifferent too. Matthew Slover plead guilty in exchange for no points on his license. His ticket cost $150. I know the drill, my dad was a police officer for many years. But what good is the law if it doesn’t prevent this from happening again? Slover almost killed someone, and yet he walked away with a fine that costs less than a nice dinner. No phone records pulled to see if he was texting, no investigation. Not even a drunk driving test. People get a suspended license for unpaid parking tickets, yet these events happen without consequence.

“It was an accident”, or “he didn’t set out to hit her” are explanations I heard from lawyers and judges. But to me this isn’t an accident, it’s carelessness, and that’s intentional. The driver makes the decision to not pay attention.

Proof of this only took a few weeks. I was pulling up to a red light by my house and recognized his Mercedes right in front of me. As the light turned green, he cut two people off and sped away down the highway. I sat there, stunned. The person behind me had to honk to get me to move. The chances of this happening again are real.

Matthew Slover didn’t learn his lesson. Most people don’t.

stop-sign
Crosswalks like the ones where we live are clearly marked and well lit at night.

Another statistic

So why am I telling you this doom and gloom story on what is a publication that celebrates cars and driving fun? Because the car isn’t totally innocent.

While Slover is to blame, modern tech is too. How many times do people drive down the road, fiddling with the infotainment. Navigation. Music. HVAC. Maybe even texting. You can argue that screens and HUDs are up high, at least allowing you to see out of the car. Fighter pilots call it Situational Awareness.

Not with phones. Phones are the big one. Texting is just as bad as driving drunk. If you drive drunk, society considers you a pariah. Drive while texting, and it’s ok as long as you don’t hurt anyone. Maybe because we all have phones, while only the most desperate among us drive with an open bottle in the cabin.

Observe people the next time you drive, and count how many are looking down at their lap. I bet you’ll count past one hand even on a short ride.

Speed is another factor. A car traveling at 25 mph takes about 55 feet, or 8 car lengths, to come to a full stop. Up the speed to 35, like it is on the road where Corryn was hit, and the distance more than doubles to 136 ft. I reached out to the mayor of Old Bridge, Owen Henry, to try and get this limit lowered to 25, and got an indifferent response. That was months ago, and it’s been nothing but politics since.

Slover’s 2016 Mercedes C Class has HID headlights and anti-lock brakes for short stops. The crosswalk has huge white striping on it, freshly painted. It’s well-lit and under street lights. There’s even a sign that says yield to pedestrians. Still, despite all this, tragedy occurred.

The doctors and nurses told us that getting hit by a car is now a common occurrence; they get patients all the time. Some live. Some don’t. In 2021, 7,485 pedestrians were killed in traffic crashes in the United States. That’s about one death every 70 minutes. In 2017, an estimated 137,000 pedestrians were treated in emergency departments for nonfatal crash-related injuries. Pedestrian deaths are increasing faster than all other traffic fatalities combined – 54% since 2010. Compare that to just a 13% increase for all other traffic related deaths.

My wife is now a statistic.

I could point to hundreds of stories, but here’s one that might stick. A one-year old killed, crossing a side street with her mother. The driver: “I didn’t see them.”

corry_madison
Thankfully, Madison still gets to have a mom.

Size doesn’t matter

This report says that SUV drivers are three times more likely to hit someone vs a sedan in NYC.

Logic states otherwise. SUVs are more common than regular cars. They will hit more people.

We’re not all in Hummer-sized giants, lumbering around blindly as we squint to see the edge of the car. I see better out of my X3 than the M3. The Cadillac Escalade I’m due to review was more than capable of handling any emergency maneuver.

The report also mentions the weight of an SUV as a contributing factor. A BMW i4 weighs 5,000 pounds, more than my X3 M40i. As electric cars become more prevalent, that issue will only get worse. Quiet too – can’t hear them coming.

An SUV might strike a person higher, but that’s semantics; the goal is to put an end to pedestrian strikes, period. Slover’s C Class could have killed Corryn just as easily as an SUV would have.

You go where you look

We don’t solve this problem by changing what we drive, but how we drive it.

The instructors at the Performance Center say it early and often.

“You go where you look.”

Good advice. I always tell it to Madison when we ride bikes in preparation for her still-distant first driving lesson. It means the obvious. It also means that you need to have a little respect for this 3,500-pound steel tub powered by tiny explosions that you’re whipping around in. When you don’t, bad things happen.

Look at your local news today. Did a person get hit by a car? Maybe it’s even more than one occurrence. On the other side, you might know someone that’s been hurt or killed behind the wheel because they were driving like an idiot. Too fast, in a place with not enough predictability. Doin’ it for the ‘gram.

Then it’s “RIP bro”, or my favorite, “thoughts and prayers” and an Instagram dedication post. Then life goes on.

Except it doesn’t for the family that lost someone.

Thoughts and prayers don’t pay the bills when you can’t go to work.

Events like this can feel far away when you don’t know the people involved. Well, now you know me.

We’re lucky. My wife will recover. She’s tough. Tougher than me. Even when things bother her, she presses on. But even with all the therapy in the world, she’ll never regain total mobility in her leg, or sensation on her skin. She has tire tread marks scared into it. Pirelli 225 all-season radials, if you’re wondering.

So the next time you press the START button and bring the engine to life, think of me and my family. How my little girl almost lost her world for no reason. How I almost lost mine.

Pay attention when you drive. Eyes up and out. It could save your life.

Could save the life of someone you love.

I never did finish watching Moneyball…

Pay attention when you drive.
Corryn’s final act of courage regarding this incident is letting me tell her story for all to see. Please pay attention behind the wheel.

1 – Stat source

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