By Toy Garcia
Of the Meridian Times
In 2013, there was an incident reported every 1 minute and 49 seconds in the state of Michigan.
Every 7 minutes and 24 seconds somebody was hurt, and every 9 hours and 13 minutes, somebody died due to this problem.
The worst part, is that this isn’t a drug or addiction problem that is hurting people, (which is capable of being treated,) but it is a part of everyday life.
These numbers are the statistics gathered by the Michigan State Police Department, and are the average times between incidents, injuries, and deaths caused by automobiles in Michigan in 2013.
Those who have been affected by a crash know just how life changing they can be.
Ryan Peterson, 24 from South Lyon was with his sister and as they went through an intersection they were struck by a car that was running a red light.
According to the Michigan Department of State Police, “Of the 881 fatal crashes, 220 (25.0 percent) occurred at intersections.”
Peterson, much like many others, fell victim to the comforting, but naive, “it wont happen to me” mentality. While he was not injured, his sister was, and that was enough to change his perspective on driving.
“It just makes you wonder why our society is like this,” said Peterson. People are all driving like crazy, rushing to get places, and even though, “it was a long time ago, it still affects me every day.”
Isaac Anguiano, 20, of Chicago is another example of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“I was going the speed limit, and then out of nowhere, a truck was going 45 or 50 mph in a 25 mph speed limit, and hit my car and totaled it,” said Anguiano. Anguiano was accompanied by his girlfriend, and remembered that they, “didn’t really have any injuries that were too bad. She hurt her arm because of the impact, but it was nothing too serious.”
Anguiano said that while he was one of the lucky ones, it still changes the way he does things to this day.
“I’m much more cautious now. After it, when I cross a four-way stop sign, I would be so cautious. Even sometimes when there is not a stop sign, I would slow way down to make sure no cars are coming, because of what happened,” said Anguiano.
Even where the people do not end up physically harmed, there is often mental and emotional scarring.
George Garcia, 54, from Ann Arbor was on I-75 in the middle of winter driving up north with his family before his car, and his world, was turned upside down.
Garcia was driving along the right side of the road as the car began to drift. Then in an attempt to correct, Garcia whipped the wheel to the left which propelled the car, sliding on ice, across the highway. Before Garcia grasped what was happening, it was too late.
“I just felt the car falling to the left, and then the next thing I remember the car was sitting upright, it was totally destroyed, and there was dirt all around,” said Garcia.
Garcia doesn’t remember much immediately after that, except the frantic search for his daughter. Garcia says he recalls his daughter’s boyfriend crying out that she was missing and then seeing a bunch of people gathered around her near a tree.
The paramedics then came to take everyone to the hospital, and that’s when his mind started racing.
“I was pretty freaked out about it. Feeling incredibly guilty about it. The only thing I could think is, “What have I done,” said Garcia. “I was extremely worried about them… I felt very responsible, and the truth is I was responsible for it. And that is never going to change, I will always feel I was responsible.”
His daughter sustained a fractured skull, shattered elbow, and three broken bones in her back, while his then wife broke two vertebrates in her spine.
These stories usually end in tragedy, but fortunately for Garcia and his family, all passengers in the car made a full recovery.
Despite his good fortune, Garcia says there isn’t a day goes by that he doesn’t think about what could have been.
“Things have worked out better than my wildest dreams, but there have been times that I thought about it, and what really freaks me out and makes me get a sick feeling in my stomach is not so much what happened, — but what could have happened,” said Garcia.
“She could have easily died, and I truly don’t know what I would have done if that had happened. I really don’t know. I don’t know how I would be able to survive after that.”
The sad truth is not everyone is so fortunate.
According to the Michigan Department of State Police, in 2013, “Most fatal crashes occurred on dry roadways (74.1%) in clear weather conditions (56.6%.)”
Garret Hardenbrook, 21, from Ann Arbor was just 16 years old when he received the Earth-shattering news that happened while his father was driving in these exact circumstances.
“I got home and my whole family was crying. I don’t remember everything because I was just really mad,” said Hardenbrook.
Jeff Hardenbrook, Garret’s father, was grabbing a few items out of his car that had broken down on the side of the highway, when the driver of a semi-truck lost control and smashed the car, and Hardenbrook into the guardrail killing him on impact.
Even though he was not there, and it was not in a moving automobile, the event all but frightened the teenager from getting in front of the wheel.
“I didn’t want to drive ever. I never wanted to get back into a car, and when I did I was so scared,” recalled Hardenbrook. Since the tragedy, whenever Hardenbrook passes an accident, he looks at it differently.
“I want to know what happened to them,” said Hardenbrook. “I’ve stopped to help a few times when I’ve seen cars on the side, (of the road) and I don’t think I ever would have done that before.”
While none of these accidents happened in the same way, the change in peace of mind is always similar.
No matter who was driving, injured, killed, or involved in the travesty, it is a life altering event.
But, people don’t have to learn the hard way. There is information about traffic safety and driving all over the internet, and while these travesties can never be eliminated, being an educated driver can help keep everyone safe.
Visit Michigan Traffic Crash Facts for more information.
* Disclaimer — George Garcia mentioned in the story is my father*