We have heard plenty of times how precious life is. Whether it is a quote you have heard, a song or just the understanding when you lose someone close. One of my favorite quotes of all time is, “Live each and every day to the fullest, for all we know it could end any moment.” Although I have always liked that quote, I never appreciated it as much as I do now until our experience in the early morning hours of January 22nd. Some of you have heard about our accident, but whether you have or haven’t here is how I recall the events. I will try to give enough detail that you can fully understand what happened.
Going back to Thursday night where it all began, we saw some good basketball games as Westminster swept past Carroll College in the men’s/women’s double-header. After the game we began to pack up and I talked to some of the Carroll fans about us driving home as soon as we were packed up. Some of them were very surprised we were going to drive all the way back to Grand Island, Neb. that late. I smiled and told them we have done it all season long. For us, it was nothing new…pack up and get home for the weekend. That was the plan….
After a stop at Burger King for a late meal and dropping Michael Wood off at the hotel we began the journey. We got into the heart of the mountains and hit a big snow storm. We were in search of diesel pump anyway, so we pulled off when we saw a gas station. The off ramp was completely covered in snow and as I was driving I was finding it difficult to see the road. I asked Adam to check the weather on his computer. Tony fueled the vehicle as I looked at the radar and tried to call 511 for road information. The radar looked as if the storm was moving North and would clear up along our way. Brandi got ahold of the Wyoming Road Information line and it was saying the roads were clear at the state line. Tony suggested we drive back into Salt Lake City. I commented that we were 50 miles from the state line if they wanted to go forward, we could take it slow. I will never forget what I heard from Brandi, “Thayer, I trust your judgement if you think we can get to the state line.” We finally made the decision to continue our journey home. After battling the snow for 20 more miles, the roads began to clear up and we were running normal speeds. After stopping for fuel in Rock Springs, Wy., Tony told me to try and get some sleep and he would drive. I had been up since 8:00 MT that morning and it was nearing 2:00 a.m. I gave him the key and crawled into the back to lay down. After struggling to fall asleep, I finally hit the zone and I was out. Unitl…….
I heard a noise that woke me up just before 3:00 a.m. As I sat up and looked out the front window, I could see a guardrail as the Earth disappeared over the edge. We had come to a complete stop. Still trying to understand what was happening, I looked out the sliding door window and saw headlights of a semi heading right for us. The next thing I know Brandi had a grip on my shirt begging me to get her out of the van. I grabbed her tightly and told her everything would be okay….then closed my eyes and waited for the worst. This was the first time in my life that I thought there would be no tomorrow. The next few seconds are a complete blur. I don’t know what happened to the semi or how it didn’t hit us, but Tony told me later that he managed to miss us. We quickly realized we had to get out of the van because it wouldn’t move at all. As I jumped out of the van I nearly fell because of the ice on the roads.
We walked to the back of the van to find the trailer on its side. The trailed had unhitched and the tongue of the trailer was jammed into the back of the van. The safety chains was all that connected the trailer and van. We knew there was no way to get the chains off and there was nothing we could do. It was now that I began to realize this wasn’t a nightmare and it was really happening. Tony, despite being in shock and asking why this was happening to him, told me I needed to find more clothes and we needed everyone’s bags out of the van. I was wearing shorts at the time to try and stay comfortable on the long drive. It was below freezing with strong winds and light snow….COLD!! I went back into the van and began tossing the bags towards the door where the rest of the crew was carrying them to the median of the interstate.
Before I go any further, I should explain the wreckage. We were driving East when the accident happened. The trailer was on its side facing an Easterly direction, while the van pointed South. The van was sitting across a lane and a half on the interstate. The only way around was to use the shoulder between the van and the guardrail. This is why I still believe it was a miracle the first semi did not hit us.
After all the bags were out, or I thought, I grabbed the last couple and took them to our pile of bags. Adam went back into the van. As I turned around I noticed another truck and this one wasn’t slowing down. I screamed for Adam to get out and then froze as the semi got close. He swerved and missed the van, but then his trailer made contact with the front and
ripped it apart. My next thought was checking on Adam and wondering if the impact would cause any kind of explosion or anything. At that point my brain was all over the place and all I could do was think of the worst. Adam came out of the van unharmed, thankfully. I began to ask if anyone had a flashlight anywhere. Tony had a small LED flashlight that he gave me. I took off down the interstate with a goal of slowing down traffic. After a couple slowed down, there was another one that wasn’t slowing. I was in the same lane as the semi flashing the light. At some point I realized he didn’t see me and I turned to yell at the others. At that moment I ran for the median to get out of the way. I turned when I heard him go by and held my breath waiting for him to hit the van. About 200 feet from contact, the driver locked his breaks and began to swerve. With some luck he missed hitting the van.
I continued on with the thought that I would slow traffic and not only save what was left of the van, but hopefully another driver’s life because we were all over the road. I began to get traffic slowed. I turned around once as a trucker stopped to see if we were able to call for help. I jumped up on his truck and said we did and told him to just drive slow around the front of the vehicle. I noticed another flashlight around the others. I didn’t realize until now that a truck driver had stopped up the road and came back to check on us. He also brought his reflective triangles to put in the road with hopes drivers could see them.
About an hour after the accident a car was driving in the lane I was standing in. I realized it was the highway patrol… “How you holdin up?” he asked.
“I am doing fine, but I’m damn glad to see you.” I responded. “Get those lights on, these truckers aren’t slowing down.”
“I am going to drive up and talk to them and then I will be back this way,” he said as he flipped on the lights. What a relief!! I continued with the flashlight hoping it would help. When the patrolman took the traffic directing upon himself, I went to check on everyone else.
The flat bed to tow our vehicle showed up just a few minutes before the patrolman did. It took him, what seemed like forever to get the chains broke loose. When the second chain broke he began to anchor the van onto the flatbed. He yelled at me to help him out. When I got over there I was asked to get inside the van and steer the wheels as directed. When it got onto the truck, I got out and continued to stand in the cold.
When the second patrolman finally showed up, the first guy on scene came back to where we were and began to ask Tony questions. He drew out a sheet of paper and wanted to know where everyone was sitting with their name, birth date and phone number. I took that over to the semi that Brandi and Adam were in and then had Bret fill it out.
Now the only thing left was to get the trailer back on four wheels and hooked on to the back of the truck. When he got the trailer hooked up to tip it over he again motioned me to help. He hooked on a strap and told me to hold on to it, but when the trailer started to go to go with it and don’t try to hold it from going over. So here I am holding on to a strap and when that trailer was ready to tip back over it went in a hurry and pulled my little bottom right along with it. The goal was to add some shock to its fall.
We got the trailer hooked on and drove the mess out of the way. He pulled it over to a safer part of the interstate (the off ramp) and put one of the tires from the right side on to the left side it it would ride back on two wheels rather than four. Both tires on the one side were blown out in the accident.
Before changing the tires he gave me a number to a hotel in the nearest town, Wamsutter. The phone was never answered. By this time we had all of our bags into the Fanz Van, thinking we were going to Wamsutter. The gentlemen in the semi that stopped asked if we wanted a ride to Rawlins, which was about 60 miles away. After talking with everyone else, we decided it was best for us to take the ride. As the others loaded the bags into the semi, I traded business cards with the tow truck guy and told him to call me when they looked at the van and trailer.
As I was talking to the tow truck guy he looked over my shoulder and said, “Oh no, he didn’t…” I turned around to find the state trooper stuck in the snow in the median. This gave us a good laugh, first one in awhile. Then we watched his fellow patrolman pull him onto the interstate. Classic.
I was the last one to board the semi and sat on a plastic bucket between the two front seats, Bruce was driving, Brandi in the passenger seat and the rest of the crew and Bruce’s partner were sitting on the bottom bunk in the back. It was one of the longest rides of my life. We drove 35 mph on the interstate, I think mostly because Bruce didn’t want us freaking out after what had just happened. This drive started around 6 a.m., just over three hours from the wreck. I will tell you right now, that is a long time to be standing out in that kind of weather.
As we drove away it was silent in the semi. There were no words. I think we all just wanted to sit and be left alone from everything. I remember sitting there and re-living the events over and over. All I wanted was for my family to know what happened and that we were okay. It was only 7:00 a.m. where they were and I was sure who was up. I began to text my mother and older sister and as tears fell down my cheek, I didn’t know how a text message would do justice. I wrote a two-page text and then erased it.
As we drove along slowly I just continued to think about it. I hadn’t released anything emotionally from what happened. Every time I tried to text anyone more tears fell from my eyes. It was the most frightening thing I had ever been through. Finally about 7:20 a.m. CT, I sent a message to mom and my older sister, “Hey, you up for the morning?” Mom responded, “Yes”….and then came the hard part…I had to tell her, “Please don’t freak out, but we were in an accident in Wyoming. We are in a semi getting a ride to a motel. Everyone is ok. I just wanted to say I love you.” As I typed the end and hit send more tears streamed down my face, but I was quiet enough that it wasn’t noticeable to the others. Mom responded asking if I was okay and asking me to call as soon as I could.
Then the response came from my sister. After, mom had called her to tell her why I was texting. We exchanged text messages for nearly 20 minutes before I told her I would call when we got to the hotel safely.
After that I sat on my bucket thinking about everything. It really is amazing how an experience like that can make you think about anything and everything. Every person I have been in any kind of relationship with crossed my mind on that long drive.
It took an hour and a half to get to Rawlins where we stayed in the hotel. As we climbed out of the semit, Beachner caught hit foot on a bungee cord that was hooked to the steps….he fell. I am happy to say that was the only injury reported from our accident morning. It certainly gave us something to laugh about….finally. I took some bags into the hotel and went back out to offer Bruce and his partner the opportunity to buy them breakfast. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t convince them to let me pick up there breakfast. No matter what, I will never be able to thank them enough for what they did for us on that cold morning.
After we got checked in to the hotel in Rawlins it was time to call the family. I knew mom was the first person I needed to call and as I started down the hallway I didn’t want to push send. I finally did and it sure didn’t take long for an answer, “hello,” she answered. I could barely get a “hi mom” out before I lost it. I told her to give me a minute and then it was time to concentrate on breathing. When I finally gained composure I began to tell her all the details. It seemed as if every time I tried to give more details I would lose control. It was now that I really understood how close we were on more than one occasion to the end. Tears streamed down my face as I told her the details. Bless my mother for just listening on the other end and not asking questions until I was through, even though at times I would stop talking for 30-40 seconds. It was the hardest conversation I have ever had with her. It is amazing to me how the voice of your mother can make you realize everything really is okay.
After that, I began to call everyone in my family — Dad was next, then my older sister, Elsie, brother, Jimmy and little sister, Johnna. After talking to them all I began to respond to other text messages and phone calls of people finding out. It really is amazing how news of this magnitude can travel so quickly. Facebook and twitter alerted everyone before we could even say anything about it.
I spent all morning Friday bouncing phone calls back and forth with Jason and the many other people calling to see if we were okay. I had only slept about 40 minutes in the previous 26 hours so it wasn’t easy, but we had to figure everything out. We finally got a ride Friday afternoon to where the van and trailer were. We got all of the stuff we wanted out of the van and looked at the damage in the trailer. Fortunately, the equipment appeared to be okay.
Our ride hooked up to the trailer and took us to Wheatland, Wy. where we got into a minivan bound for Cheyenne. What a mess!! It seemed like it took forever to get there. When we finally got to Cheyenne everyone was hungry so we went out. A couple (or more) drinks later we were back to the fun-loving group we have been all year. It was nice to have that release after the long day.
When Saturday rolled around we got a ride to the airport for a rental car and then it was off to home. I have said this before, but this time I really mean it. Grand Island, Nebraska has never looked more beautiful than it did Saturday evening when we arrived.
To add insult to injury, my keys were left in the van in Wyoming. I got my car unlocked to find a spare house key, but couldn’t find spare car keys. After we took the rental to Lincoln Sunday I didn’t have a car until my keys arrived in the mail Monday. Glad they were so kind to send the keys.
No matter what happens, you have to eventually get back to normal. This weekend we will be back on the road for games Saturday in Kansas City and Tuesday in Branson. It may be nerve racking at first, but no matter how many times you fall, you have to get back on the horse and ride again.
I think we learn something from every situation and I certainly did here. Be sure to tell the people you care about how you feel!! Don’t hold grudges and don’t worry about the little things in life. And most importantly, be thankful each day you wake up and make the most of it. For all we know it can end any minute.