So… on May 31, 2012, this happened on the way down to STPR.
Charles and I traditionally make the ~2 hour drive by taking the back roads through the southern tier of NY down into northern PA. It’s far more interesting than the mindless trip down the highway. The accident occurred on the roads between the towns of Prattsburgh and Bath, NY.
We were heading southbound on Dineharts Crossing Road. While driving through a somewhat large patch of forest, there was a sign warning of an upcoming right hand turn with a speed recommendation of 15mph. I slowed and proceeded through the turn. The road then straightened out a bit and I increased my speed back towards the 30mph limit. The turn where the accident occurred was preceded by a gentle chicane of sorts that prevented us from seeing that we were approaching a nearly 90° left hander where Dineharts Crossing Road transitions into Murlatt Road. Unlike a few moments earlier, at no point between the forest and that intersection was there a sign that warned of the impending turn. Unaware of what lay ahead, I continued on at normal speed. Before we knew it, I had steered left to turn the corner but the car soon lost control as the back end swung towards our right. I applied the appropriate technique of steering into the skid and easing off the gas, but by that point the weight of the vehicle was carrying us off the road.
Just before the edge of the road, the skidding had bled off enough speed that the tires regained their grip. However, we were too close to the edge so I hadn’t enough time to steer the car back southbound, so they pulled us off the road. The grass was high and uncut along the edges of Murlatt Road, obscuring its hidden treasure: a 3’ deep drainage ditch. The front passenger’s wheel went over first, followed almost immediately by the rear passenger’s wheel. Within seconds the car had slid into the ditch and rolled itself onto the passenger’s side.
Charles and I confirmed that neither of us were injured and I immediately put the car into park and turned off the engine. I carefully removed my seatbelt, so as not to drop myself onto Charles’ head, and gingerly stepped around him into the back seat where I proceeded to open the rear driver’s side door and climb up and out. You don’t realize how heavy a car door is until gravity is working against you and you have to lift it up above your head. Once out, I ran to the back and opened the rear hatch from where Charles would soon exit.
There was a small farm on that corner where a man named Tex (seriously) lived with his wife. I’m unclear as to whether he actually witnessed the accident, but soon after I was out of the car, he was walking toward me. After confirming that we were uninjured, he returned to his house to call “the wrecker truck.” It turns out that he must’ve called 911, because before you knew it there were two fire trucks, an ambulance, and about three million pickup trucks on scene, soon followed by two NY State Troopers, and then finally the tow truck. A quick trip into the ambulance confirmed that we were neither intoxicated nor injured. Once the firemen realized there was no fire or major fuel spills, they stopped standing around chatting with each other and got back into their vehicles to return back to whatever it is they do in their podunk little towns on a Thursday night. All that remained were the tow truck and the troopers, the latter of which proceeded to give me two traffic tickets:
- Speed not reasonable & prudent
- Failure to use designated lane
I take issue with both of those charges.
In the first case, the trooper was not there to witness my speed, and when I asked him if he had taken any witness statements he told me that he had not. He performed no investigation on the scene. He did not measure the length of my skidmarks. He simply saw my car in the ditch - the car belonging to a couple guys from the big city up north who had the misfortune of having an accident on his turf. Additionally, if the speed limit is not considered reasonable & prudent for that turn on a perfectly clear and dry day, then there should be a warning sign that advises a slower speed, just like there is 1/2 mile up the road in the forest. As for the second charge: this dirt road has no lane markings. I have several photos that show that the only point where I ever crossed over the imaginary center line was briefly after the car began to skid and I was taking action to regain control. It’s hardly what I would consider to be driving on the wrong side of the road.
I will be driving back down there for my court appearance on June 28th. I’ll be bringing my photos in the hopes that they will simply dismiss the charges or, at the very least, reduce them. I do not plan to plead not guilty because I really don’t want to have to waste vacation days at work just to drive 90 minutes to deal with this trooper in court.
The car itself survived remarkably well. I’m convinced it’s durability and toughness saved us, Charles especially, from any significant injury. I’m still astonished that none of the glass shattered. If the mirror hadn’t gotten squashed and broken off, the car would be entirely legal to drive. Because it was on its side for about 45 minutes and had lost a bit of oil, I decided that rather than risk damaging the engine I would have it towed back to my dealer (~90 miles of towing - completely free: AAA Plus finally pays for itself). The next night they started it up and gave it a once over and a clean bill of mechanical health. No damage to anything other than the exterior panels. Fully drivable. Surprisingly, insurance did not total the car. They gave me a check and now I have to make the difficult decision of whether to use that money to have an 11 year old car repaired, or use that money as down payment on a replacement Subaru. I’m having a very difficult time with this decision.
So, we survived unharmed. We never made it down to STPR - my heart just wasn’t in it after the accident and there will be plenty more chances to enjoy rally in the future. A week later, I’m most angry that I let that road get the best of me.
- Top left gives you some perspective on the turn.
- Top right is a quick snap of the car immediately after being winched out.
- Center is the car in my driveway a few days later.
- Bottom left and right are the car in the ditch.
GPOY… Thursday Night…
Let’s just say that the past 36 hours of my life haven’t been all that great.
Details to follow when I’m feeling more emotionally prepared to share.