Thursday, 5 March 2009

The blink of an eye

Today is a serious post. And it's long. But I need to write this out for me. You don't have to read it.

Last night we had our church small group at our house as usual. We finished up at about 9.30pm and off everyone went. I was busy cleaning up at about 10pm when we got a phone call from TM, one of the guys in my group. He had been to Tony's in the Lonehill Shopping Centre to pick up a pizza, and was making his way home along William Nicol Drive when he was in an accident - he had hit a pedestrian and asked that we join him at the scene so he wouldn't be alone.

Thankfully, we were only five minutes away, so we could be there almost immediately. The poor man was totally strung out, understandably. The street lights were not working on that section of the road and the pedestrian was wearing dark clothes. TM had seen a shape moving towards his car out of the corner of his eye and had swerved violently in an attempt to miss him, but the guy ran straight into the side of his car (driver side, in the front), taking the side mirror off, smashing the windscreen and landing in the road. TM stopped, as did the car behind him. He couldn't open his door (where the guy had hit it), so he climbed out the passenger-side.

When we arrived (less than ten minutes after the accident) the ambulance and paramedics were already on the scene, trying to stop the man's bleeding. I didn't look the scene. TSC and I prayed with TM and tried to comfort him. There were plain-clothes policemen all over the place. TM explained that they said they'd been chasing the pedestrian who had apparently been involved in a smash and grab crime. There were also a few towtruck drivers, all trying to convince the distressed TM to let them tow his mangled car away. Vultures.

It was really cold, so I went home quickly to fetch jackets for all of us and a Coke for TM to get a bit of sugar into him. The police took TM's report of the story down. They reassured him that it wasn't his fault and that he wouldn't be charged. He was more concerned about the pedestrian.

After about 30 to 45 minutes of working on the pedestrian, the paramedics put him into the ambulance and took him to the Johannesburg General Hospital. This is much further than the closest hospital, which was about 4km away, but because it was a private hospital they couldn't take this John Doe there. That saddens me - he was in critical condition and it would've surely given him more of a chance to get into hospital as quickly as possible. We don't know yet if he made it or not. The police and paramedics were not optimistic.

The police (SAPS - South African Police Services) told us we had to wait at the scene for the Metro Police (JMPD - Johannesburg Metro Police Department) to arrive. If TM left the scene, he might be charged. An hour after the accident happened, they still hadn't arrived on the scene. Eventually the plain clothes officers got tired of waiting on the side of the road (and realised that we were not interested in their stories of their own accidents. Seriously - three of them tried to brag about a high-speed car wreck they'd been in. Not helpful). They said they'd escort us to the Douglasdale Police Station nearby instead. I took TM in my car and TSC somehow managed to drive TM's car with it's shattered windscreen and the police officer as passenger.

When we got to the police station, the plain clothes cop told us we could wait for Metro there. So we waited. "I'm going to stand outside," the undercover cop said. "But I'll still be here, so don't worry - I'm not leaving."

But he did. They all left. Without giving us their badge numbers, their names or any information. They also didn't tell us how long Metro would be. So we waited. TM just sat with his head in his hands, saying, "I can't believe this is happening" over and over. Just before midnight, I asked TSC if the Metro police were actually coming.

He asked the Douglasdale police. They didn't know. So we asked them if they had the Metro police's phone number. They searched for awhile and then told TM they'd give it to him and he could call on his cell phone. So this traumatised man had to call up the JMPD and try to get through to someone who knew what he was talkign about. Eventually, the person he found (four people later) asked to speak to the inspector on duty. He also had the sense to ask for the police station phone number so that TM didn't have to keep funding the call on his mobile (South African mobile rates are ridiculous).

JMPD eventually convinced the SAPS to let us fill in an accident report at the station. That took forever on its own - as soon as TM pulled out his Zimbabwean driver's licence and international licence, the young lady who was assisting him got confused. She wasn't very experienced and kept haviong to call her supervisor, who was busy trying to deal with an emotional young woman who'd been arrested for drunk driving.

TM asked about how he could find out what had happened to the pedestrian. They didn't know. He asked what would happen next. They said he must take the accident report number to his insurance company. They kept asking daft questions like, "did the pedestrian take a breathalyser test" (um, no - he was unconscious) and "well, why didn't you stop at the crossing?" (because there wasn't one - it was an open stretch of road). TM must have explained the situation about 20 times.

Finally, they allowed us to leave. TSC drove TM's car again, and I drove TM in mine. We made our way slowly back to his apartment in Sandton. On the way we passed by the accident scene. The Metro police were there. Walking around and shining their torches on the blood stains in the road. I asked TM if he wanted to stop. He shook his head - I don't think he could handle anymore.

We dropped him off at his flat and drove home. When we arrived, we realised he'd left his wallet and all his documentation in the pocket of the jacket we'd leant him. We called him and I promised to drop it all off today after work. I don;t think he took in a word of it.

I think we all got to bed sometime before 2am. Tired as I was, I couldn't help thinking about what I would have done in TM's shoes. I would've called TSC. If I couldn't reach him, I'd get my folks on the line. But TM doesn't have a significant other, and all of his family are in Zim. One of the first things he said to us when we got to the scene was, "I'm sorry to call you. Thanks for coming - I just felt so alone."

My heart broke for him. He is such a decent guy. While everyone else was trying to assure him that the insurance would sort his car out and that he wouldn't go to jail, all TM could think of was the injured pedestrian. Was he going to make it?

I also wondered... was the guy really a criminal? Did he have a family waiting for him at home? If he did commit the crime of theft, was it to try to support himself of maybe even a wife and kids? Why couldn't he have run across the road 500 metres earlier, where the street lights were all working? Or why couldn't he have stayed home last night?

I called our church this morning and asked one of the leaders to set up a trauma bebriefing for TM or some form of counselling. I hope he's ok. the whole situation has made me wake up a bit and realise how precious life is. And how lucky I am to have TSC and my family here.

It's also made me realise that if this happened to me, I wouldn't know where to start - I don't have the number for the paramedics stored on my phone. I have our general emergency number (10111), but my experience with using that line is that reaction times are too slow and follow-up is non-existent. I need to do a refresher first-aid course and check that my car's first-aid kit is in order. I'm going to save the emergency numbers on my phone and put one on speed dial. Please will you do so too? It could save a life.

Added at 13.16pm: The pedestrian died. Just found out.


Laura said...

Gosh this is so terrible T ;(

How aweful for your friend!! He will definately need some sort of councelling - its an horible thing to go through!

I also dont have any of the emergency numbers in my phone - will definately add them!

dizzblnd said...

Tamera, What a horrible thing to have happen. I do hope the man is OK. As for your friend, I can't even begin to imagine what it is like for him. I will pray for you all.

The incompetence of the police is horrible. I can't believe the crap TM had to go through after being incredibly traumatized. This makes me angry and it made me cry.

You all will be in my prayers and I hope TM will eventually come out of his shock and realize that this was most certainly NOT his fault, he did everything he could have humanly done to avoid this accident

(((((((((((((((((To you all))))))))))))

phillygirl said...

Jees. What a night :( TM is certainly lucky to have friends he can call on who will stick it out with him till 2am. And don't even get me started on the cops :P

Sheesh, I can't even begin to wonder how someone deals with such an experience ... and well, as much as you can say bad timing for the pedestrian (at night I guess you can hope for an empty stretch of road), there are far too many people running across our roads in bad lighting and dark clothes (and I'm sure not all of them chased by cops) to be too surprised. I'm surprised it doesn't happen more often. And I feel more sorry for the driver who was happily obeying the laws of the road but has now injured (or possibly killed, how awful :( ) someone - I dread that on my own conscience, especially when it's so clearly not the driver's fault.

Being Brazen said...

:( oh man, thats a sad story

boldly benny said...

I'm so sorry! This is sad for all involved! Philly is right - TM is lucky to have you guys!

Kitty Cat said...

Sjoe, what a story! Lucky that you guys were there to help him out and be with him. Shame.

Spear said...

The trauma of the event must have been bad enough for you all without having to be traumatised even further by the lack of care and ineffeciency displayed by both the SAPS and JMPD.

Dash said...

its so good you could be there for him.

is there any way you can put pressure on the government to improve the emergency services line? Our number is the same for ambulance, police and fire. Its fantastic the times I have called it.

Sass said...

This story hit home for me, Tamara...

Given the fact that my own father was recently hit by a hit and run driver...just out for his nightly stroll...

Sending lots of prayers and positive thoughts...

Your friend did all the right things. There should be more people like him, and you and TSC.

Poetry Sue said...

TM is very lucky to have you and TSC as friends.. He did everything in the right manner, and I am restocking my first aid kit tonight. I'm lucky that our general emergency service (911) is very good.

po said...

What a heavy story. Sorry to hear all of it. The police did not sound helpful at all. It is such an awful thing that your friend has to deal with and it is not his fault.

Ruby said...

Man that sucks:( I'm just grateful that even though he didn't have a "other half" or family he could call he had you guys...whom he trusted enough to call in his time of need.

Please update us on how he's doing etc.

Gill said...

What a horrible, horrible thing to happen. Thanks for sharing - gave me a wake up call too, I don't even know if there is a first aid kit in my car...will be checking on all those things this afternoon.

acidicice said...

F8ck. You're right. I have no idea what to do :(
The last accident I was in I moved my car and completely freaked out.

Thanks for bringing this up. I hope everyone is OK.

The incompetence of the police astonishes me more and more every time I hear about it.

angel said...

i am sorry for tm, but i am so glad for him that you were there and could hold him up through it.

Anonymous said...