Thursday, August 17, 2006

Day 19, Wednesday- Posted with reservations.

So, the post is a bit late. I was going to just post a quick update on co-worker's visits, working with tile, and the effects of paint fumes. But then I read an old news article.

I sat on it, stewed over it, and finally decided that, if you can laugh at my exploits and injuries, you can sit through what I’m about to say. To really understand everything, first, you need to see this:

Reduction in charge leads to plea in manslaughter case
By E-R Staff

OROVILLE -- A reduction in the charge from a felony to a misdemeanor induced a plea Wednesday in connection with a 2004 traffic fatality near Forest Ranch.

Edward Bosqui Brown, then 57, of Merced, was arrested for suspicion of driving under the influence and vehicular manslaughter, after his pickup collided on Highway 32 with another vehicle.

Daniel Roger Box, 45, of Chico, was killed and his 6-month-old grandson was slightly injured in the crash.

Investigators said Brown was driving east on Highway 32 above Forest Ranch on Aug. 1, 2004, when his 2001 Toyota Tundra pickup, which was towing a camping trailer, crossed over the center line, colliding head-on with Box's passenger car, a 2002 Toyota compact, which was returning to Chico from the Lake Almanor area.

Witnesses told CHP Brown's trailer had started to swerve and may have contributed to the collision.

Brown pleaded no contest Wednesday in Butte County Superior Court to a reduced charge of misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter, which could carry up to one year in jail.

A second charge of DUI causing injury was dismissed in the plea bargain.

Brown's attorney, Dennis Hoptowit, said he did not believe alcohol was a major contributing factor in the crash.

Now you need to understand why I care.

I went to that crash as a fireman. The accident left a debris field that stretched for a few hundred yards. It was the debris that we saw when we pulled up in the Engine. My first thought was that someone had hit a tree and left a large chuck of twisted metal in the bushes on the side of the road. A second look showed that the unrecognizable metal hulk was actually a “Toyota compact.

Another engine had arrived first, so two firefighters were busy tearing off the roof in hopes of reaching the occupant before he died. A third firefighter was lying on his stomach through a hole that may have been a window, trying, in vain, to secure an airway for the man inside.

The fourth firefighter was kneeling next to a bloody pile of plastic.

I grabbed the trauma bag and came up next to the solo firefighter. He was pale, and looked as if he had been kicked in the head. I looked down and realized we were looking at an infant in a car seat. Outside of the car. The bottom third of the carrier was filled with congealing blood and a small child sat half-crying, half-whimpering and in obvious distress.

A tiny corner of light-blue fabric peeked above the gore.

“Oxygen,” I said- mostly to myself, “get O2 on him now- flood him.” I pulled the heavy green cylinder out of the bag and attached the smallest mask we had. I opened the valve all the way when I heard a loud bang followed by a shout.

“Tom! Get your jaws and get over here! Have Mike take that over.” We learned later that the baby had a few lacerations, some mild abrasions, and a fractured skull. Yeah, minor injuries.

I sprinted back to the rig, shouting at Mike as I went back. I doubt he heard me. I opened the rear compartment and pulled the Jaws, the hydraulic lines, and the pump out. I carried the gear back to the main wreck. I approached the two firefighters pulling the roof. One was covered in hydraulic fluid and trying desperately to cut the last post. The other, a Captain, directed me to the driver’s side of the wreck.

I set up the jaws and climbed into the dense brush. Instantly, I was enveloped in the smells- antifreeze, gasoline, acid, diesel fumes, oil, and blood- the smell of a crash.

With a loud "pop" the roof came up and we flipped it to the rear of the car. I got started on the driver's side wreckage. Out of the corner of my eye I saw three people working desperately on the driver.

I started tearing apart the car, and listened to the rhythmic cadence of someone counting out chest compressions over the roar of the hydraulic pump and the scream of bending metal.

My Chief was beside me, holding back brush and offering advice. The remains of the front fender had to be pulled away, and then what was left of the door could be worked on. The driver’s leg was pinned by this twisted metal, preventing his removal from the vehicle.

The paramedics arrived. We stopped tearing on the car, and held our breath while one of them tried to intubate the victim. The paramedic looked at his partner. “The trachea’s gone- I can’t get the tube in, and he hasn’t been breathing for at least fifteen minutes.”

My Chief tapped me on the shoulder, and I started tearing again, being mindful of the leg. The door was almost free and I was shoving the tool farther into the hinge points when someone yelled “Stop!”

The paramedic checked the victim one last time. “I’m calling it- he’s gone.” The firefighters backed up a little. I gave on last twist on the controls for the jaws and door popped loose, freeing the man trapped inside.

We pulled him out of the car, and set him on the side of the road under a sheet, where he would wait for his last ride. We picked up our gear and started to pack up. The arms of my turnouts and my gloves were covered in blood. There was still dried blood on the reflective strips when I turned them in six months later.

Where I was, we saw a lot of accidents. Many were worse than this, but this one stuck, and does to this day. Maybe it was the fact that the baby wasn't much younger than one of my own. Perhaps it was the idea of a family getaway coming to such an end.

The point is this: most people read articles like the one above and think that the driver died instantly and without pain. They believe that the little kid in the back had a scratch and was fine. We never realize how bad these things are.

The truth is, Dan Box died horribly.

He survived the crash, and struggled to live for some time afterwards. The force of the impact destroyed his face and neck. His teeth were all gone. He suffocated in the wreckage of his own body on the side of the road while men struggled, bathed in blood and sweat, to save him.

We know now that our best efforts could not have saved him. We did not know then. That's what bothered some of us. Did we work hard enough? Did we move fast enough? Did we? What IF....

But now we know. Dan died because someone, who decided to drink, decided to tow a trailer that he decided to overload, and then decided to drive too fast. Ed Brown's truck crossed the center line and the DA called it an accident. The decisions leading up to the final event have been disregarded. The aftermath of those choices has been sterilized, wrapped up, and given to the masses as a seemingly just end to a short, tragic story.

Dan Box's family owned a nursery where my Grandfather bought roses and I purchased azaleas. Dan Box was coming home from a weekend with his family, his new grandson in the back seat. He was a husband, a father, and a grandfather. Now, he is only a memory.

The man who did this- who killed an innocent man, and walked away uninjured- is going home with what amounts to a traffic ticket.

Yeah, well, Daniel Roger Box wanted to go home too. I think people tend to forget that.


At 2:19 PM, Blogger Miss Sassy said...

don't make me cry at work.
its just not nice.

At 5:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ditto to Miss Sassy's comment. Shame on you! I wish all the drunks in town who don't think twice about getting behind the wheel could read it. AB

At 8:28 PM, Blogger Tom said...

AB- This is why your job is important. Even if most people don't realize it, or trivialize your work, just remember that some of us do appreciate what you do and the effort you make. We all wish you the best of luck and know that maybe, if we are all lucky, there will be one less story like this- just because of what you got out of bed to do.

At 3:20 PM, Blogger Lindsey said...

I don't know you, but I love your blog.

Sometimes I wish there were better words, longer words, to say this with the meaning I intend: thank you for doing the job you do, for saving and protecting lives.

At 1:09 AM, Blogger Tom said...

I'm just a guy with odd hobbies. Some people carry golf clubs in their car, I happen to have a trama bag.

Thank you for your comments, and you're welcome.


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