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.