In a split second last night, we watched as a tragedy was miraculously avoided, how life changed for two people and how folks came together to help others. It was also a valuable reminder -- if we ever need one -- about how safety belts save lives.
At about 6.55 p.m last night just north of exit 23 on the 87 Northway, on a dry stretch of blacktop, I watched from the passenger seat of a friend’s SUV as a large camper trailer pulled by a Toyota pickup truck began to swing violently from left to right. In the blur of a few seconds, the pickup truck and trailer -- traveling in the right lane about 100 yards ahead of us -- flipped over several times over both lanes of traffic. We saw a small orange cat jump out of the shattered passenger side window.
The pickup came to rest upright on top the metal barrier with the flattened camper trailer taking up all of the right lane. Several motorists pulled over. In the moments that followed, time goes into an eerie slow motion state. Two women and my son rushed over to the pickup truck to check on the occupants. They learned a female passenger had already exited the vehicle and went looking for that cat we had seen earlier, either being ejected or jumping from the window. We leaned another cat was trapped in the back of the cab.
I couldn’t get a 911 call out (thanks AT&T), so I asked a woman next to me to make the call. She handed the phone to me, as she had no idea how to explain the location of where the crash was to the operator. I told the operator the male driver appeared to be trapped, but was conscious and talking and the female passenger was all ready out of the vehicle.
We learned valuable information that was shared with a trooper from Warrensburg when he arrived: The driver was 64 years old, was on a blood thinner and had a stent installed. As another passerby talked with the driver, my son and his friends helped the woman passenger try to find her cat, “Larry”. “He’s a hider,” she told me. She assured us several times that she was okay and she appeared not to have a scratch on her. She was extremely distraught over the welfare of her cat and less so than the well being of her passenger.
By now a fire chief from Lake George was on the scene and was asking the Trooper to have the Thruway shut down so his emergency team could get their equipment there and remove the driver.
In my more than 30 years as a journalist I have witnessed the aftermath of some very horrific accidents. The only reason these two people survived this crash was because they were wearing seat belts. The fact that no one else was injured, the fact that other vehicles (including ours) managed to avoid a collision with the trailer and pickup while they flipped over and came to rest was nothing short of a miracle. After speaking with the Trooper, we left and continued to Schroon Lake, shocked at what we had witnessed, grateful that no one appeared to be seriously hurt and reflecting on the stunning reminder of just how fragile life is.