I was driving across Montana, heading for the west coast on Friday, January 4th. I had stopped in Billings around lunch time for fuel and food. The sky was clear, it was warm, and the roads were dry. It was a little breezy, but nothing to be concerned about. A couple of hours later, I was in Livingston, MT. It's a small town which sits at the entrance to the canyon which leads into Bozeman on I-90. Livingston sits north of a natural wind-breaker and the interstate by-passes the town utilizing this rise in the land.
It was a little after 2 in the afternoon and I was climbing this rise in the truck when I noticed emergency vehicles on the side of the road at the crest of it in a curve. I checked my left mirror, changed to the left lane, and began reducing my speed. As I neared the top of the hill, I began to notice the wind picking up. As I came around the curve and crested the hill I saw three semis on their side on the side of the road and a recreational camper that was rolled over as well. Just as I was thinking to myself, "Wow, I wonder how they got all tangled up with each other?" my seat started to rise. Of course it was rising because the entire left side of my truck was rising. The wind at the top of this natural windbreaker was gusting up to 80mph I was told later. In a matter of seconds gravity was on the wrong side of me and I was suspended from my seat by the safety belt. My windshield cracked and I lost all visibility for the rest of my ride as Sally and the trailer she was pulling laid over on her side at 50mph.
With that kind speed and inertia, I skidded on my side for a while. I hate to sound cliche, but time began to slow. What probably was less than 5-10 seconds seemed like an eternity while I was suspended there, hanging onto the useless steering wheel trying to take some of the pressure of the seat belt off my side with my arms. The roof caved suddenly causing the plastic molding above me crash in on my right shoulder and arm, but thankfully not my head. I couldn't figure out why this was happening since, judging from where the gravity was, I was still on my side. The windshield was beginning to tear away as well and a combination of oil and antifreeze was beginning to sprinkle my face.
This is probably the only time in my life when I honestly and truly believed that my own death was a distinct possibility. In this way I wasn't cliche. My life didn't flash before my eyes. I didn't think of my kids. I didn't think of my wife. I was concentrating on two things. The first of these is that I was trying to hold myself as "high" in the vehicle as possible (the door above) while keeping my head away from the caving roof. The second is that I was concentrating on my own... consciousness. I don't mean that I was trying to stay conscious; I was perfectly alert and lucid. I was concentrating on the experience of my own consciousness since I had no idea with each passing second if it was going to be the last one.
The truck finally came to rest. Amazingly, the engine was still running so I reached down (er, up I guess technically) and turned the key to kill the motor. Diesel fuel is not particularly flammable, in fact, you'd be lucky to ignite it with a pocket lighter, so I wasn't immediately concerned about that. What I was worried about, though, was another truck coming through there and being blown over like I was. Gravity was still on my right. The roof of the cab was completely collapsed into the passenger seat and down between the two seats. Propping the weight of my body against the collapsed roof, I was able remove the seat belt. I pulled the latch on the door, turned my body slightly and pushed it up and open with my foot.
Now the fun part.
Using the steering wheel as a grip and the collapsed roof behind me, I pulled myself out of the truck, not unlike crawling out of a manhole. Once out though, I had limited options. The door was swung wide to my right and the highway was in front of me. I had skidded out of the left lane, across the right lane and across then off the shoulder into the grass. I turned to look behind me and... imagine my surprise to see the underframe and wheels of a flipped passenger vehicle beneath me. Just then, the wind gusted and blew me off the truck. On my way backward, I slowed my fall by grabbing the frame of my driver-side mirror. It gave me just enough time to aim my foot for the side of my motor, as the hood of my truck was completely gone. I landed on my ass on top of the flipped vehicle that was laying mostly under my truck.
Now I was worried about the possibility of a fire or explosion. Diesel's one thing, gasoline is something else. I scrambled off of the passenger vehicle as quickly as I could. A few feet away was an SUV with the rear end all smashed-up. I located a couple of bewildered looking policemen on the other side of the wreck. They asked if I was okay, which I was. I turned to look back at the vehicles now that I was a safe distance from them.
I had hit two vehicles after being blown over, flipping one of them. Both of them had decals on the side of them reading "Park County Sherrif." Both of them were newer model Dodge Durango SUVs. My own safety now secure, my next fear was for the potential passengers of the two Durangos. I asked the deputy if anyone had been in the vehicles and he assured me that no one was and that everyone was okay.
I don't fuck-up very often, but when I do, boy do I do it right.
I was informed by one of the deputies on the scene that they had one of those big electronic signs on the interstate, on either side of town advising high profile vehicles to detour through town. I was cited by a state trooper later for failure to observe a traffic device. I have no valid excuse other than my own inattention. I had been driving across Montana since early that morning with clear weather and dry condiitions. All day, the signs were simply filled with Buckle Up and Don't Drink and Drive messages and I had simply started tuning them out. Again, it's not excuse, but that's the reason. The DOT completely closed the interstate around Livingston 30 minutes after my crash. I was able to pack some essential things, then didn't take them from the site of the accident with me when the wrecker had to move up the road, beyond the detour.
That's when I discovered that a total of six trucks blew over in a span of one hour. Two of those trucks were on the outside of the interstate detour just west of town, within a quarter mile of the exit. My company sent an insurance adjuster to pick me up and take me to Bozeman for drug/alcohol testing, standard procedure for my company in all rollover accidents. After that, I got the adjuster to take me to Walmart to grab some clean clothes and then to a motel.
The next day, he and I returned to the site. The wrecker company was still in the process of unloading the trailer and the entire rig was still on its side. The guy from the wrecker company had secured the things I had packed into bags from the night before and had them in his rig. I grabbed them while the adjuster took some photos then we returned to Bozeman. The next morning, Sunday, I rented a car and drove to Billings, where Sally had been towed. There I took some additional photos to the ones I had taken the day of the crash, then salvaged what I could from Sally and said goodbye to her. She was going to be a total loss and it's the last time I 'd ever see her. I then drove straight through to Omaha, Nebraska - the headquarters of both the company I work for and the company that I've been leasing Sally from.
On Monday morning, I met with the Safety Department people at the carrier where they collected the information from me for the fourth or fifth time since Friday then told me that I was on suspension pending investigation and review, another company policy in all rollover accidents. I was told that the process is a minimum of two weeks. I was told it could be as long as two months. Tuesday I drove back home to Kentucky.
So now it's been two weeks. I'm going to give Werner a chance to keep me. I like working for them and am not interested in working for anyone else, but at the same time I can't wait forever obviously. Sally was almost paid for, so a good deal of the insurance settlement on the truck should be a check to me. If it's as much as I think it is, I could cruise another month comofortably, two if I absolutely had to. I doubt I'd wait that long though. If Werner doesn't come through in the next couple of weeks, I'll probably get with McMullen (the people I lease from) and see about getting on with another carrier they work with.
I got a letter in the mail from the Park County attorney. He had filed a motion to dismiss the citation "without prejudice" which I've been told means that, it gives him the chance to file another charge. At this point, I don't know what this means. It could mean simply that the charge has been dropped since it's obvious that the detour was really meaningless since there were two trucks outside the detour that had also blown over. Maybe someone feels the DOT was sluggish about closing the interstate all together? That's my hope. But I doubt it. They're going to need someone at fault, if at all possible, in the insurance claim on the sherrif vehicles. I was at fault, so I'm sure it'll stick.
And that's the story. Now for the fun stuff. Pictures!
I was told that I hit one of the rigs that was already rolled over on the shoulder as I skidded off the highway. I'm guessing that's what ripped off the roof of my cab.
When I went to Billings on that following Sunday to retrieve whatever I could salvage, I was able to get some better pictures now that she was sitting upright. As a point of reference, here's some old photos of Sally pre-crash.
And here's what she looks like now.
The angle of the following photo would lead one to assume that no one probably survived.
If anyone had been in the passenger side, or the bunk, they probably wouldn't have made it. Thank goodness I wasn't training anyone at the time because, he or I, would've been in one of those two places.
On the driver side, though, just enough room was left for me to remain largely unharmed.
But not completely unscathed. I know you probably don't want to see my nekkied torso, but in the interest of EXTREME JOURNALING, I thought I'd show you the injuries to my shoulder/arm by the collapsing roof.
Pretty damn amazing if you ask me. I'm one lucky S.O.B.