Crash bang pop! (In which nothing much happens)

March 11, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
March 11, 2017

So about that car crash…

North Buchanan Boulevard is a quiet street; even more so at night. And as previously noted, this particular moment on this particular Saturday evening, things were especially quiet. So I was quite surprised when, as I crossed the intersection of Buchanan and West Knox Street, I heard a loud POP! and glimpsed a shower of sparks in my rear-view mirror.

I wasn’t sure what had just happened; rather incongruously, it seemed like someone had set off a single pyrotechnic item. Had a street light or maybe a transformer exploded?

The good samaritan in me felt the need to report this. Was this a matter for 911, or should I call the power company, or perhaps the police department’s non-emergency number. I didn’t know, in part because I did not know what had just happened.

I turned left at the next intersection, parked on Englewood Avenue, exited my car and began walking briskly back toward the site of the…well, whatever had just gone pop.

A young woman was standing on the front lawn of one of the houses that line North Buchanan. Do you know what happened? she asked. I dunno; I think it was a car crash, I replied. I heard her make a small scornful sound, as if she was saying, Well duh!

In a moment I was at the site of a collision between a white mini-van and a red car. The front end of the mini-van had sustained a great deal of damage; the front driver’s-side wheel well had been ripped open, and the front bumper on the passenger’s side appeared to be locked in with the smaller red vehicle. The rear portion of the van, which evidently had been heading north — the same direction as me — protruded into part of Buchanan’s southbound lane. I wasn’t certain, but it seemed as if the red car might have been backing out of a driveway when the van struck it.

Two things became clear as I beheld the scene. One was that the driver of the mini-van was behind the wheel, making a futile attempt to disentangle the automobiles by backing away from the red car. The other was that the collision had somehow affected some nearby power lines, which were draped only 10 feet or so above the surface of the road.

I had no idea whether electricity was flowing through the lines — perhaps not, as no lights shone in the three or four houses nearest the crash — but a particularly tall vehicle was liable to get snagged in them.

Someone (since it was dark, I couldn’t see who) was shouting various warnings at the woman in the mini-van. They cautioned that she was only going to damage her automobile more with her attempts to separate the vehicles and that she was jeopardizing her life by being so near the power lines. Both exhortations made sense to me.

After gawking at the scene for a few moments… I mean, after taking stock of the situation… I realized that this was definitely a case where calling 911 was appropriate. I pulled out my phone and told Siri to do just that.

As I spoke with the 911 operator, at least one car made its way south on Buchanan, paused to take in the crash and then squeezed past the interlocked vehicles. This struck me as unwise at best and hazardous at worst.

I stepped into the southbound lane and began gesticulating vigorously in hopes of persuading motorists to reverse course. Most did, although one driver decided to continue on his course.

After a few minutes, an ambulance and a fire department pickup truck arrived, followed closely by a Durham sheriff’s department cruiser. They parked near the scene with their lights flashing, blocking both lanes.

Since I was no longer needed to direct traffic, I walked toward the collision. A paramedic asked me if anyone was hurt. When I said I wasn’t aware of any injuries, he headed elsewhere.

I continued drifting toward the crashed vehicles and caught snippets of conversations. One woman was worried about losing her license; the sheriff’s deputy seemed to say that it would be taken away, but by the city, not by him. (Maybe they were discussing a business license rather than a driver’s license?)

Two fire department workers inspected the power lines on the west side of Buchanan. A colleague of theirs began circling the vehicles and distributing some powder-like substance from a container he was holding; I think he was trying to determine if any gasoline or other dangerous liquids or vapors had escaped from the crashed automobiles. None had, as far as I could see, but tiny particles hovered in the air. Caught by the headlights of the emergency vehicles, they mimicked smoke.

No one seemed interested in speaking with me, and I didn’t feel as if I had any useful information to volunteer to the authorities.

After taking another look at the situation, I turned on my heel, went back to my car and continued on home.

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