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 Texas : Features : Columns : Nolan Maxie :

DEATH ON THE HIGHWAY

by Nolan Maxie
Nolan Maxie

During all of my travel experience and road running across the state of Texas, I have seen a multitude of car wrecks. But, the worst traffic accident I ever saw in my entire life was encountered on US Highway 59, about 45 miles north of Houston. The worst I ever saw, by far! No exceptions! Period!

It was a late afternoon in the summer of 1957. I was just a farm-fresh teenaged high school grad out of northeast Texas, filled with wonderlust and headed to Houston, 250 miles away, to seek employment.

A seemingly minor infraction of a traffic law had caused an extremely irreversible catastrophe to occur.

Two cars traveling in opposite directions, on (at that time) the two-lane roadway, had collided in the southbound lane of US 59. I didn't see the wreck occur, but I was obviously the first person to arrive upon the scene. Both vehicles were all wheels up (up-side-down) and lying on the southbound (west side) road-shoulder.

I parked nearby and quickly ran up to the wreckage to see what had happened. The wheels were still spinning and dust was flying everywhere. Sounds and smells of gurgling fluids, like oil, gasoline and steaming radiators, filled the air. There were no signs of life within either vehicle; dead silence! No movement at all and besides a radio still playing, it was a horrible, horrible, unforgetable dead silence.

There were smells like I have seldom encountered since, but will never forget. Soon I observed, to my great shock, five adults bodies lay dead in those vehicles. Even in those days before seat belts, all five fatalities were still inside the vehicles, unejected. I quickly determined there was nothing I could do to help any of them. They had already entered eternaity.

Then suddenly, above all the other highway noises, I and another passerby heard the faint sound of a baby crying. Now, that sign of life was exciting and really got our attention. We frantically searched for the baby, looking all around, inside the vehicles, everywhere and all about the area. Soon we found the little fellow only a few yards away, where he had been thrown clear of the wrecked vehicles. He was lying on his back in a couple of inches of water in tall weeds along the highway ditch. Screaming at the top of his lungs, it had been very difficult to hear him above all the other noises.

Hurrying to the ditch, I quickly picked the baby up from the water and weeds. By then, other bystanders and I tried to comfort and console the precious little thing. He was the only sign of life from this awful. awful tragedy. Although, way too young to know it then, he was now all alone in this big world.

Screaming loudly and not showing any significant signs of serious injury, the baby was seriously traumatized. He soon responded to our attention, care and touch, then settled down to only a whimper.

Soon, happily I could hear the distant sound of an ambulance siren coming up Highway 59, northbound from Humble. Quickly the emergency crews arrived. As soon as I could, I turned the infant over to EMT care and capable hands. Several wrecker trucks, highway patrolmen and more ambulances began to arrive. Among all the clutter, rush and excitement, I managed to ease away and went back to my car. Leaving, I drove around the wreckage and continued my journey to Houston, where I later began my search for employment. Within a week I found a job at General Electric Company.

The next morning in Houston, I picked up a copy of the Houston Chronicle, with headlines that read, "Five Adults Die in Car Wreck: Baby Survives."

Good or bad, I was there and I'm glad I was. I hoped then and still hope today that I helped out in some small way.

These terrible accidents don't have to happen. Careless drivers often can't realize their seriousness until they are involved in one. Please drive sanely and safely, always. Life is fragile and precious.


Nolan Maxie
"Nolan Maxie"
March 1, 2010 Column
piddlinacres@consolidated.net

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