The phone call I had dreaded for years came into my office on a Friday afternoon a few weeks ago.
“Mom, I think you might want to meet me at the hospital,” my youngest son said in a shaky voice.
I had just put out a traffic alert on my TxDOT Lufkin Twitter page about a major accident on SH 94 at SL 287 in Lufkin.
As a newspaper journalist, I always dreaded the thought of coming upon an accident scene and possibly finding loved ones involved. I never did. So, as a TxDOT spokesperson, my ambulance chasing days are done, but the alert system I use daily to get the word out about blocked roadways due to emergencies and construction is something the public relies on. As I sent out the alert, it was no different than any other crash. Yes, it was. This one involved my family – my daughter-in-law and my youngest granddaughter.
Instead of driving to the hospital, I drove straight to the scene of the crash where I would find traffic blocked in all directions, emergency lights, fire trucks and an ambulance. I knew a shortcut into a parking lot adjacent to the accident.
It’s hard to miss my son, who is 6-foot, 7-inches tall. I spotted him immediately. Tucked into his arms was his youngest daughter, who I refer to as my baby grand. She also carries my middle name and acts more like me than I sometimes want to admit. She and her mom were leaving town for a weekend softball tournament when someone ran the red light and hit them squarely on the passenger side door where she was sitting.
I threw my car into park and didn’t even turn off the engine. That tall, beautiful 11-year-old had a bruised, red cheek from the impact of the side airbag, an injured shoulder and a couple of cuts. My son was about to take her to the hospital himself when I asked about my daughter-in-law.
“She’s in the ambulance.”
I listened to a witness tell me how the car went airborne before flipping over three times. I scanned the accident scene and spotted their SUV. It was totaled. The windshield was hanging into the front seat and there was no exit from the passenger side. My granddaughter crawled between the seat and the shards of glass hanging inches from her to exit the driver’s side. They were both covered in tiny pieces of glass. I asked her later what she experienced in the seconds that their car was rolling over.
“I heard momma scream, but I was praying. I was still praying when the car stopped,” she said through that beautiful smile.
She told me of how an elderly man helped them as they crawled out of the vehicle. He asked if he could pray for them before he handed my daughter-in-law his phone to call my son. He walked away before they could thank him.
At the hospital emergency room, the first thing my daughter-in-law said to me through her tears, her pain and her bleeding was, “They saved our life. The seatbelts. They saved our life.”
The cuts and abrasions on their necks, shoulders and across their chests looked as if someone had taken a knife and made the perfect imprint of a seatbelt that worked. A seatbelt that did just what it was supposed to do.
Their wounds will heal and with a little rehab, my daughter-in-law should be fine and my baby grand will throw a softball as good as ever. But the reality is things could have turned out very differently.
I constantly talk of how if a vehicle rolls and the occupant is not wearing a seatbelt, the likelihood of being thrown from the vehicle and becoming a fatality greatly increases.
If you don’t do anything else today, make the choice to buckle your seatbelt and make sure your family buckles up. They work, and when you least expect it, they will save your life too
- Rhonda Oaks is the Public Information Officer for the nine-county Lufkin District of the Texas Department of Transportation. A Lufkin native, she is a graduate of Hudson High School and Angelina College. She has a background in print journalism and worked for many years as a newspaper reporter and a freelance writer. She has received eight Associated Press awards. Her articles have been published in many publications over the past 25 years.