12 thoughts on “Personal Stories”

  1. I come to this site because I just finished reading an article in the 18 Sept. ’17 issue of the ‘New Yorker’ magazine, ‘Accidental Killers’ by Alice Gregory–this piece hit a nerve and pierced a heart–mine.

    Ten years ago I went through a red light signal because I believe I experienced a micro sleep. My only memory is driving along slowly, thinking this street is very dark, then suddenly I seem to come awake from traffic noise: I am in the middle of an intersection with cars and a motorbike whizzing in my field of vision, then braking, turning, just nicking the end of the motorbike, seeing the rider go sprawling, then a huge bang from a car T-boning my car, airbags try but fail, and I am knocked out. I wake with people helping me, and am taken to hospital. Police say they will charge me with negligent driving, going through a red light signal, and causing grievous bodily
    harm.

    A few days later I revisit the scene. Two cars have been totalled, one motorbike, and its rider in hospital still with ‘serious’ injuries. I am numb and puzzled. I find that a large tree with overhanging foliage partly obscures the red-light signal.
    I take a picture and give this information to police, but know I must have fallen asleep at the wheel.

    I keep calling police as directed by my engaged lawyer to find out the charges. My lawyer said he would argue only that it was an accident because of a moment of inattention. I told him I believe I had a micro-sleep. He countered that might increase liability. What I did not tell him was that the day before I was sacked from my teaching job. I had been teaching for more than 40 years. I was being let go, my time was up, that’s just the way it is. I did not sleep the night before the accident. The next day I was in a rather mindless state. I certainly should not have been driving that evening, for I was definitely sleep-deprived. This website certainly has helped me clarify that as playing into the responsibility I bear. I was trying to make myself feel better by going out to eat at a favourite restaurant.
    I should never have gotten behind the wheel in that state: I was irresponsibly elevating risk, and the consequences were serious injury, destroyed property, and more.

    The complication in this is my main point. I kept calling police to find out the charges. My lawyer said most probably after pleading guilty to ‘negligent driving causing grievous bodily harm’ I would lose my license for a year and pay a fine of $2000. I had no complaints about this; I only was heart-sick about the continuing suffering of the victim, a young woman who was riding the motorbike. Police eventually, after about a month, informed me that there were medical complications for the victim and that there would a long term of a series of operations. I felt terrible. They told me to stop calling and that they would contact me about what charges would be laid. Still, occasionally, I did call during the next two months. Police only would say, nothing new, and please, stop calling, we will call you. At the end of four months my lawyer contacted me to find out what was going on. I told him no charges were laid because the medical outcome of the victim had not been resolved. Well, he said call me when it is so we can prepare the case for court. I said I would.

    Months went by. I called Police again after 9 months. They said nothing to report. By then I was sick with worry about how the victim was suffering through such a long series of operations. I had all the signs of trauma: sleepless, numb, depressed, unable to concentrate, detached and dissociated. These symptoms continued for a number of years. I just tried to cope and wait in a limbo. I did not replace my car. I could not drive. I was waiting for the case to be resolved. This went on for 5 more years. I became used to being pedestrian, glad not to drive, too risky to do so anyway. I waited. There is no statute of limitations in Australia(I am an American ex-pat). I found a new job that was convenient to public transport. I kept waiting. After 7 years, I retired. I moved and built a small cabin on my daughter’s property and became a senior carer for my 2 grandchildren. I acquired a car to help in my care for them, taking them to school. Still, I was a fearful, cautious driver. I drove only about 2000 miles a year. After ten years, one morning two men came up to my home with drawn pistols and told me to come outside. When I did they handcuffed me and locked me in a police truck. I asked what was the problem. They curtly said: You know what you have done! Oh, is this related to the car accident. “That was no accident! You ran a light! You never showed up for court! You are an evader! We have multiple warrants. Your case was ten years ago.’ I was incredulous, but obviously compliant. I spent the next couple days sitting in jail, waiting for my bail hearing on the multiple warrants for 2 non-appearances in court. Finally, a judge said he would allow bail, but only because I had a clear record and was a retired school teacher, so couldn’t be all bad. They set a sentence hearing.

    My sentence hearing was adjourned three times. I kept showing up, but there were legal complications. My original lawyer remained completely evasive and passive. I was a legal liability for him in his mind. I just wanted the matter properly resolved. One complication was the original charge was for a law that no longer existed. And so on, ad infinitum…Ultimately, a judge finally reluctantly said she would rule and deliver a sentence(this was 4 months after being picked up on the warrant). She said there was no defence for not appearing in court, that I was irresponsible and an evader of justice. I was not allowed to speak. I had never received any notice of being charged or of the court dates or even of the warrants because the address was wrong, and no one including the postal service had followed up on the Registered Mail requirements. I was easily contactable and had even been actively in communication with police for the whole period covered by the warrants. None of this was considered by the Judge.

    I walk and think a lot these days and still feel terrible, but am glad the long series of operations did NOT occur, though I lived in ignorance and concern thinking they did. Certainly a person did suffer broken bones, and for that I am utterly sorry. Now I am a hyper-careful person with a high sense of safety always. That is to the good. And I thank this site for helping to clarify indeed my responsibility: it was not just an accident, for I got behind the wheel in a sleep-deprived and anxious, perhaps distracted state.

    I walk everywhere these days, wondering even if I will ever drive again. When I walk, I think, I clarify, and I become more naturally relaxed. Walking is good, good for a troubled mind.
    I have no license for a year, I paid my fine. The judge said I should not ignore the law and the courts, that I was lucky not to be getting a custodial sentence.

    I don’t think that way. I am lucky the injury was not as serious as I came to believe, but serious enough. I am very careful, about everything, but know even that accidents occur in this universe, to include bureaucratic legal accidents, a kind of…tit for tat.

    I am sorry this story took so long to tell, and that’s not even the half of it.

    Sincerely, James Provencher

  2. After becoming addicted to pills, my girlfriend and I quickly moved on to heroin. A few years ago, we decided to get clean after a friend of ours overdosed and died. About a week before we planned to come home to get help I fixed myself a shot and blacked out, which happened to me frequently on heroin. It’s a very jarring experience, as if my consciousness were a television that turned on and off whenever it pleased. It could be in the middle of a conversation or while standing at a bus stop. On that night the black out lasted almost five hours. When my consciousness flipped back on, she was sitting on the bed with me, crumpled over with the needle still in her arm.

    I instantly knew what happened.

    She was never able to hit a vein on her own. She always needed me to do it, which often meant preparing the shot. I have since gotten clean, but I have never been able to stop thinking about it. I love her dearly still.

    Since then, all I have heard is “it wasn’t your fault” and “she made the choice” and “you can’t blame yourself.” They don’t know what to say but what they’re supposed to. As a psychic would, I know it’ll always bleed. Even just to slow the hemorrhaging would be helpful. Spiritually, I’ve freed myself from prison only to enter another. That is the cycle. Slowly I’m learning to live with the hole punched in my soul in that dreadful moment.

    Still, I worry my consciousness, if not my very existence, will always be caught up in the motions of unrelenting sadness. The worst part is that it’s a flat sadness that hangs like a fog over everything else I feel.

    Amends, atonement, apathy?

    Each one as good as snakeoil.

    Time, it appears, is the only cure.

    Thank you for the site and warm regards to all who carry this peculiar burden.

  3. I read the story in the New Yorker and felt compelled to comment from a different perspective. In 1974, when I was 13, I was riding my bike home from a convenience store, frozen coke in hand, and turned off a sidewalk directly into the path of a car in a 40 mph speed zone. I smashed into the windshield and was throw over the car. By all accounts, I should have been killed, but survived with only cuts and scrapes. In the hospital, I was able to tell my parents it was all my fault and my father called the driver, who we heard was a young woman driving with her younger brother, to let her know she was in no way to blame. She did not accept the call, possibly out of shock or at her attorney’s advice. I have always harbored guilt for putting her through such an ordeal and 43 years later, only offer my story to let others know that the victim may well have been the catalyst for disaster. In my case, the driver was truly in the wrong place at the wrong time—it was 100% my negligence that caused the accident.
    May you all find peace.

  4. 2 a.m., July 2, 1978 – I was in my senior year of high school and driving my girlfriend/high school sweetheart home at after we had worked a double shift at a local restaurant. I stopped at a T-junction: if I had turned left, I would have followed a well-lit avenue all the way home. But I chose to turn right and take a winding, unlit, rural road to home. That bad choice changed everything.
    Halfway home, I grew more interested in talking to my sweetheart than paying attention to the road. I went off the road and hit a telephone pole. She was thrown from the car and killed instantly. I survived with barely a scratch. I went so crazy that night while the police cleaned up and interviewed me, that I had to be restrained in the back of their vehicle. Nearly 40 years later I still remember the rage, the guilt, the shame and horror like it was yesterday.
    A few hours later, as the police escorted me to my home and then went to visit hers, two families became utterly devastated.
    The next few months for me are a blur of deep depression, medication, anger, desperation, thoughts of suicide, constant weeping, running and walking without direction for hours, therapy visits and – believe it or not – preparing to go to college.
    But, within 24 hours of the accident, I knew I had a simple choice, to either let this ruin my life, or to somehow find a way to become a much better person than I ever thought I could be while finding a way to pay the universe back for what I took: the life of a wonderful, joyous, beautiful, talented, intelligent and creative girl named Michelle. I like to think I chose the latter and almost every day I think about my responsibility and I try to make a positive difference in the world.
    In the Fall of 1978, I was very, very fortunate in that I was entering a fine arts program in a distant city that trained professional actors. There I was encouraged to get in touch with my emotions and express them honestly. Theater school saved my sanity. I have written and produced a play, songs and a film about the accident and someday I hope to make that film, called “The Choice.” I am now a published author and professional speaker, talking to whoever will listen about the need for respect, to respect others and to be respected in turn. In fact it seems, that ever since the accident, my life has been a search for respect – respect for myself: which is the hardest thing to achieve after being accidentally responsible for the death of someone you loved.
    I am, like so many of you, a survivor, burdened with guilt and shame and deeply cognizant of my own mortality. But I find the choice I have made and the work that I do to help others liberates me somewhat; frees me up to be decent, kind and caring. It’s Michelle’s legacy and I honor it completely.
    I can only hope that by sharing my story that others will see a possible way forward out of their own dark places. If you can find a way to channel the rage, guilt and shame into something positive, that makes a real difference in people’s lives, I believe you will be OK; not fantastic, not ever truly unburdened and carefree like before the accident (I don’t think that will ever change), but at least a little more at ease, a little less angry, a little more calm and at peace with yourself. That, for me, is enough.

    1. I would like to read your screen play and hear your songs. Our stories are similar.
      At age 22 I was driving my 21 yo boyfriend in my blue VW bug down an unfamiliar country road. I went through a stop sign obscured by tree branches. The oncoming driver from the highway I unknowingly crossed hit us on the passenger side. My boyfriends lungs were crushed. An ambulance came . Jaws of life pulled me out. His last words in the ambulance were ” It hurts”.
      I survived with a mild concussion and surface injuries. He died an hour after impact. His brother and sister came to visit me while claiming his belongings is Boston, where we both lived. His brother said he was going to grad school in social work and I should check it out. I enrolled, and I made it through to become a clinical social worker. I think it probably saved my life. What else could I do but give myself to others? Even though this happened 44 years ago, I can still smell the blood. I drive only locally , flinch when anyone passes me on the right. I most fortunately had 2 sons ( they saved me, too), but always worry my PTSD has negatively effected them. So it goes. Not fantastic, a little less angry, a lot less trusting and carefree. Still difficult to do a gratitude list. Nonetheless, a life to honor. Like all survivors of accidental impacts. What a relief to have a designation.

  5. I did not know about this website or that there would be anyone like me out there. I know there are all kinds of accidents, but one does not stop to think that there are others out there that have experienced this same thing. I am truly not at the point where I can talk about this for any expended period of time nor can I think about it too much. If I do, I completely shut down and I cannot afford to do that. You see, I am the Superintendent of Schools for a rural school district in New Mexico. It is a small district that runs on a shoestring budget and we simply don’t have staff to do things. I cannot be absent.

    The incident in question happened in the course of my work. One evening, Wednesday, October 28, 2015, at about 7:30 pm, I was on my way home from a board meeting and traveling on a rural by-pass highway. That evening we really did not have a contentious or long board meeting. In fact all was well. This by pass is unsafe and people speed and do all manner of interesting things. Therefore, I am always cautious. There have been numerous fatalities. I was driving the speed limit, both hands on the wheel, and so forth. As I rounded a curve, I saw a white flash and then there was a huge thing laying across the road. I did what my father taught me to do when I learned to drive — look for a way out – look to the right and look to the left and see if you can avoid this thing. If not, slow down and proceed. There was little slowing down as the thing was directly in front of me and it all happened in seconds. I had to proceed, and I hit that thing at 60 miles an hour. The car went on its side, the airbags went off, and I had a hard time controlling it. I finally came to rest against the guard rail.

    I had the presence of mind to call 911. I told them I had been in a terrible accident and that I had hit something – a large animal or a person, I would guess, but why would a person be laying in the road immediately in front of me? The 911 operator said that they had received calls from some truckers that there was a fist fight going on along the highway and police were already on their way. Just about that time, the police showed up and the truckers came to see if I was OK. The investigation and questioning took forever and I could not drive so my spouse had to come get me. Our assistant superintendent was behind me in her car and she assisted greatly. I was told various things – that there was one person; that there were two people, that they had been shot previously and left there, and on and on. The fact remained that they were dead. I was sent home.

    The next day was awful. The event was in the paper and I heard from lots of people. It was picked up by New Mexico news and it was all over the place and I received numerous calls and emails. Our assistant superintendent and director of HR came to my house and told me that that there were two women involved. A mother and a daughter. Both women had children that were enrolled in our school district and I knew the name and children.

    What happened was that these two women had decided to have a party at their house and consume a great deal of alcohol and then drive and take a large bottle of liquor with them to another party. Along the way they got mad at each other and they got out of the car and were fighting along the road way and struggled and they knocked each other into my way. I was devastated. I love my school district and all the people in it and I decided I would retire or quit immediately. However, what ensued was an outpouring from our community and staff and students asking me to return. So I did one of the hardest things I had done to that date. I returned on Monday. There was still a hurdle left. The family wanted to come see me. That, to me, was too much. However, with a great deal of support from our school board and others, I met with the family and I truly dissolved as the 87 year old matriarch came to check on me and apologize to me for her “daughters’” behavior and she wanted forgiveness. That, to me was honestly the most humbling thing I have ever been involved with. Since that time, we graduated two girls and one will graduate this year. I have an incredible bond with those children.

    While the police investigated and did all they had to do, it was recognized for what it was and I was cleared from all wrong doing. I have heard from some well-meaning people that the women deserved it because they were drunk and out doing things they should not be doing. My feeling is that no one deserves to die – most especially in an accident. I maintain to this day that there were three people on the road that night and two are dead and one is living. The guilt, shame, and constant thought that I could have avoided this issue still haunts me every single day, and like I said, I can’t spend too much time thinking about it.

    Many people say to me that it was not my fault, but I know it is and I know that my heart is broken and will never mend. I have spent a lot of time thinking there was nothing to help me and that I simply was sentenced to a life that is forever changed and guilty. I know that this is not like causing come kind of trauma or death to a family member or most especially a child. Nothing compares to that. However, every day, twice a day, I have to drive by the exact site and every day twice a day, I die a little more inside. I have gotten really good at covering everything up and not discussing or thinking about this, but I know that it must show to some as a person with whom I work provided me with this website.

    1. You are so very brave to talk about this here; to tell your story. Based on my experience as someone who also feels deeply responsible for another’s death, all I can say is keep talking, keep telling your story, keep trying to be the wonderful person you are and helping people as you have throughout your life. No one who truly knows will tell you will you ever totally get over this, but in time, if you give yourself permission and you get professional help, it will become easier for you to do all of the positive things that you want to do, to make the positive difference you are making in the world with a lighter heart. It will take time, but it will come.

  6. April this year, I accidentally killed a lady in her early 40’s.
    Her name was Melissa. We were travelling in a 100km/ph speed zone, approaching a 60km/ph speed zone. Melissa and her partner were riding their motorbikes in front of me, I had been following them for around 20km at the time of the impact. We came around a bend approaching the 60km/ph speed zone, Melissa and her partner slowed down by easing off the accelerator, I hadn’t noticed the rate they had slowed down at when I looked down to check my speedo. Then it happened, I tapped the back end of her bike, she came off and went under the ute I was driving. The impact was so small that the ute, had virtually no damage to it. The impact happened so fast but at the same time, it happened so slow. Unfortunately for Melissa, her helmet came off. I was first one to her body trying to administer first-aid, but unfortunately, she would not survive her injuries.
    I was not speeding, the accident happened at an estimate of 40 – 50km/ph under the speed limit, I was not under the influence, I was a tad tired, as I had been sick the night before, and had been working all day. I was on my way to my last job of the day.
    I re-live the accident all the time. I already had chronic depression before the accident but since it’s has been like the depression has been on steroids. I can’t sleep, I’m always breaking down and I find it hard to talk to anyone as I feel as if everyone is judging me. Court has been hard, and it’s not the possible jail time, but, seeing her family. Wanting to go give them a hug and tell them how sorry I am. When I see them I feel weak, I have kids the same age as her kids and that rips me apart every day.

  7. Almost 50 years ago my twin brother was accidentally shot and killed by my 15 year old cousin. It tore the fabric of my family. Since my family cut all contact with my cousin’s family I never knew what became of him but then, 40 years after the incident, I received an emotionally unbalanced letter from him asking me to forgive him. At the time, I still couldn’t face him. I wrote him forgiving him but an irrational fear of meeting him still nagged at me. I have since heard that he was a drug addict and homeless. Now my family has lost all contact. He may be dead. I was so traumatized by the accident that, sadly, I wasn’t capable of reaching out to him until many years later. Whatever one’s beliefs, I believe that the best life we can live is a life of courage and self-love in the face of terrible pain that we sometimes are forced to live with.

  8. This is my story. I was headed to New Holland to take my two children to their babysitter so I could go to work. I drive past the Dakota Christian school handfuls of times a week. That day a truck pulled out in front of me. Inside was the 14 year old driver, his 11 year old sister, and 10 year old Andrew. No one in the truck was wearing seatbelts and I T-Boned them at 65mph. I had my seatbelt on and my children were in car seats. We walked away with minor injuries. All three children in the other vehicle were ejected from impact. The driver and his sister also had minor injuries. Andrew died. There was nothing I could do. I was not at fault an my tox screens were clear. I was simply at the wrong place at the wrong time. Everyday I deal with the guilt and grief of being involved in the accident. I have nightmares and rarely sleep. My mind is my worst enemy. I went to Andrews prayer service and funeral. So many people loved that little boy. I took away his life.

    1. You are not alone. I have trouble sleeping too, difficulty not letting my mind wander back to the accident. One day at a time. Find solace that you are not alone.

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