I really don’t like my job sometimes. It goes beyond the crappy hours and deadline stress. I think sometimes I have been at this line of work way too long. This week was a good example.
Driving to the shooting scene Wednesday night I had a pretty good idea the driver wasn’t going to make it. Listing to the fire dispatch channel I could hear crews call for an air ambulance. First it was how long will it take? 14 minuets ETA was the reply. Ok start the air ambulance coming was the next call. Then a while later while I am turning onto 11th Street they cancelled the helicopter, a ground ambulance would take the victim code 3, lights and sirens, to Sutter Tracy. Air ambulances don’t transport dead people or those with no chance. Sometimes I think I know too much about the way things work. Then today happened.
Sometime this morning a car carrying four people veered off Schulte Road and into an irrigation ditch. All four were killed in the crash. Tragic, most are reported to be just 18 and 19 years old. 19 years of life are reduced to seven lines of type on a CHP report of collision form that was faxed to the Press office.
It was my day off today but as soon as another reporter had the story online I got the call to go out and check the scene. I would be going out some 12 or so hours after the crash. I told an editor nothing would be out there but down deep I knew different. There are always signs left behind, scars of such a horrific event. You just know what to look for, and sadly I have been doing this long enough that I do.
The CHP report had a brief description of the accident and location, Schulte Road west of Lammers Road. I knew it would be easy to find the crash spot; all I would do is look for the paint. Just before a curve in the road I found them. Telltale marks of tragedy, the accident investigation marks. Bright fluorescent orange paint on the black pavement charted the course of the car as it lost control and careened into the irrigation ditch bank. Standing on the road I could see the skid marks path as the car lost control, the signs of the tires wandering and the last path up.
As I had pulled over and was getting my camera ready another car stopped further down the road and three people got out and began to search the ground. Family members. They wandered over to my spot and we talked, they had heard about the crash and had wanted to see where it happened. They had that same terrible look I have seen before; looking at the roadway and not understanding how hours later their life had changed.
We talked briefly, I showed them the path of the tire tracks leading to the ditch and told them what I knew form the CHP report. I offered my condolences and we walked on the ditch bank looking at the water. “How deep is the water” one of them asked me. I wasn’t sure but I didn’t want to start a conversation about them being trapped submerged in the water. They were very polite and very understanding of my presence at the scene. They pointed out bits of car wreckage still on the bank as the car made it way to the water. I didn’t have the heart to take any photos while they were there so I waited until they headed home. I gave them card and told them to call if they had any questions.
Along the canal bank I saw bits of broken glass or mirror along with the plastic car lenses. A few rubber gloves used by the emergency crews as they treated the wounded were still strewn about the ditch bank and I could only imagine the flurry of personnel that worked to free them form the car and tried to save them.
I headed home to upload the photos of the ditch to the story already posted on the website. For such a tragic event you would almost expect the photos to be dramatic but it is just a photo of a canal on windy stretch of road in the middle of the afternoon. I thought about it later that a twice this week I have stood at the side of the road where someone’s life had passed. Take the pictures, back to work, move on with your day. It seems cold hearted but that’s the life. Like I said sometime I don’t like my job and sometimes I know too much.