You never know when God will holler “Stop!” He did it in spades yesterday afternoon when a head-on collision brought everything to a halt on Highway 101 just before the turnoff to my house in South Beach.
It was a sunny Sunday afternoon, great beach weather, with lots of tourists making local traffic thicker than usual. For me, it was a regular Sunday. I led the choir at church in the morning, had lunch and mowed the front lawn in the middle of the day, and returned to Newport for a Willamette Writers coast branch meeting.
The meeting with writer “Tex” Thompson was great. We left at 4:15, happy and full of ideas. At the meeting, I had drunk a big cup of lemon-ginger tea. Despite my hummingbird bladder, I decided I could wait for the bathroom till I got home. After all, it’s only a 15 minute drive, 12 if all the traffic lights are green. My friend Wiley and I talked about how we might walk our dogs or mow more lawns when we got home. Plenty of daylight left.
Just south of the Yaquina Bridge, traffic came to a halt. Not good. I checked Newslincolncounty.com on my cell phone. The crash was near 98th Street, my exit. Probable fatality. People in a car in a ditch. Life Flight called. We weren’t moving any time soon.
We sat in our cars, trucks and RVs, filling the air with exhaust fumes. We took our vehicles out of gear and eased our feet off the brakes. We turned off our engines, stunned by the silence. Once in a while, we turned our engines back on to move forward a car length as people pulled out of line, turned around and headed back to Newport via the empty northbound lane. Impatience? An appointment? A full bladder like mine? On that section of 101, with one lane in each direction, ocean on one side, hillside on the other, there is no place to go, no possible detour.
Time clicked by. An hour. Two hours. I was so close to home I could have walked if I had somewhere to put my car. I told myself repeatedly that my inconvenience was nothing compared to that of the people involved in the accident. One person was dead, maybe more. The others were badly hurt. Life had changed forever for them while eventually I would get home, eat dinner, and watch American Idol.
Meanwhile, I had time to study the houses, trees, and signs I usually whoosh by at 60 miles an hour. I got glimpses of late-afternoon sun sparkling on the blue ocean. Roadside rhododendrons bloomed in every color. My God, I thought, it’s beautiful here. Not so much for the accident victims. For them, it will always be: This is where it happened.
A few northbound cars trickled by. Police cars and ambulances passed. An “incident response” truck flashed a sign that said “Highway closed one to two hours.”
People got out of their cars to stretch. One guy ahead of me launched a drone. It looked like a white box with legs. It hovered above the car for a while before he brought it back down. Two teenage girls walked back and forth chatting as if this was a parade.
I thought about leaving my car long enough to go knock on somebody’s door and beg to use their bathroom. But what if the line started moving?
It’s illegal in Oregon to do anything with your cell phone in your car, but we weren’t moving, and all the cops were busy. I kept checking my phone for more information. I answered a text. I read a few emails. I took pictures and started making notes for this blog. This was a perfect opportunity to meditate, but I’m not good at sitting still.
When cars are on the highway with no brake lights, they’re usually in motion. Now it was like the video got frozen with a bad Wi-Fi signal.
Last year in California, I waited four hours on the 205 freeway near Tracy while a truck vs. bus collision blocked the road. I hated sitting there surrounded by eighteen-wheelers, with no way out. People died there, too, while I suffered only a full bladder and bollixed schedule.
Everything we count on is so fragile. We all know—in our minds—that if something happens to the bridges that box in our part of the coast, we will be stuck. If an accident, a mudslide, or a gathering of wild elk blocks the road, we’re stuck. I had water, three leftover brownies, blankets and a good book in the car, but I never planned to get stuck between the library and home for hours. Nobody ever plans these things.
I had left the lawnmower out, assuming I’d mow the back lawn. I had left my computer on, figuring I wouldn’t be gone long. I had told my dog I’d be “right back.”
Every time the cars moved forward a little, I felt myself becoming furious at the one guy ahead who didn’t move, which meant I didn’t get to move. It was only a few feet, but I wanted to move those few feet. Move, idiot! I was losing my sense of humor.
Finally movement. 82nd Street. The airport. Cones, flaggers, a tow truck and a smashed car, a pile of what looked like clothes on the pavement, 95th Street, oh my God, 98th. I got in the left-turn lane and contemplated the solid line of northbound cars blocking my way. A man in a red car got out of line to make room for me to turn. And then there was my street, wide open, my neighbor’s house, my neighbor’s dog, my house, my dog. 6:40 p.m. Praise God and hurry to the bathroom.
Oregon state police reported the following:
Preliminary investigation revealed that a blue 2007 Toyota Corolla, driven by Shane Larson, age 44, of Tillamook, and also occupied by Tyann Walker, age 32, from Beaver, was traveling northbound when the vehicle crossed into the southbound lane of travel on a relatively straight section of the highway. The vehicle struck a southbound silver 2014 Buick Verano head on. The Buick Verano was driven by Sean Compton, age 50, from Springfield. Following the initial collision, the Toyota Corolla traveled over an embankment west of the roadway and rolled onto its top. The Buick Verano spun across the northbound lane and came to rest with the rear of the vehicle against the guardrail facing west.
Larson and Compton were transported by ambulance to Samaritan Pacific Communities Hospital in Newport. Larson was later transported by Life Flight helicopter to Good Samaritan Hospital in Corvallis due to the extent of his injuries.
Walker suffered fatal injuries and was pronounced deceased at the scene.
Please pray for all involved in this horrible end to a day at the beach. Be careful out there, never assume things will go as planned, be grateful when they do, and don’t drink anything and drive.