Things that go crash in the Night

The recent story of the drunk driver taking out an entire house has reminded me of the time when our own house was unable to duck.

It was in the spring of 2003, about 10:15 at night. The Reverend Mother and Tiger Lilly had already gone to bed and the young Mall Diva was upstairs, probably flipping through fashion magazines. I was on a couch in my basement trying to catch the Twins score on ESPN (I hadn’t even heard of blogging at that time) when I heard a strange rushing noise that lasted just long enough for me to cock my head and try to classify the sound before it was replaced by a loud crash and a shudder through the house. I, and the cat that was on the back of the couch, immediately levitated and were on our toes. As a parent you learn that while the first sound you hear is important, it is the next sound that tells you how serious the situation might be so I froze for a moment waiting for my next clue: would it be screaming, crying or someone yelling at the other cat?

It turned out that the next sound was that of the Diva’s feet stampeding down the steps from the upstairs to the main level, then her voice saying, “Dad – someone’s crashed into our house!” About that time I had cleared the basement steps and could see a strange light outside our dining room window, reflecting a strange kind of fog. “Get me the phone,” I said to the Diva as I headed for the front door, which is right next to the dining room. As I opened the door and came out on our porch I could see a white car crumpled up under the window box a few feet away and resting on my shrubberies, with several heads inside the car bobbing around. Behind the car and parked in the half-circle driveway that divides our front yard was another car, the driver’s side door open and a man standing behind it, shouting in a very authoritative voice, “Turn the car off, you are not going anywhere.”

I’ve just about got the scene processed in my head when the Diva comes out with the cordless phone. I dial 911 and when the operator comes on and asks for a description of the problem I respond with my address and the statement, “Someone has just crashed their car into my house.”

“What was that again?” said the operator.

“I said, someone just crashed their car into my house.”

“Is anyone in need of medical assistance?” she asks.

“Not yet,” I reply.

“Just so you know, officers are on the way.”

By this time people were climbing out of the crashed car looking rather dazed and the mysterious driver of the second car was still shouting instructions. I could already start to hear the sirens, as everyone of my neighbors in the vicinity had already called 911 themselves before I even placed my call. I asked the men who had gotten out of the crashed car if they were all right, but they didn’t have much to say. As they were all standing, however, I figured they must not be hurt too bad. The second driver approached and I met him out in the yard where he introduced himself and gave me the story thus far. It turns out he was driving along the highway near our house when he had noticed the white car driving erratically and then saw it clip a minivan and force it off the road. As a concerned citizen and a computer analyst for the State Patrol he was offended and when the white car didn’t pull over after the accident he had followed it while calling 911 on his own cell phone. The driver in the white car noticed the attention he was getting and exited the highway in an attempt to lose his pursuit in the streets of my neighborhood.

My house is near the highway and sits in a commanding position where three streets come together in front of it. I also happen to have a large front yard. The driver had barreled down the street toward my house and tried to make a left turn onto another street, but given his speed and physical impairment (drunk) couldn’t quite make it. He hit the curb, launched his car into the air, landed halfway across my front yard, careened the rest of the way across the grass (dropping parts everywhere), crossed my driveway, took out a lamppost, broke through one hedge, crossed another sidewalk and kissed my stucco. Later we would pace off 27 steps from the cracked curb to the gouge in the yard where the car first nosed in.

Of course we soon had all kinds of company. Two local squad cars, a couple of Highway Patrol units, an ambulance, a firetruck and eventually a flatbed tow-truck showed up, along with a goodly number of my neighbors. Oh, and my wife and other daughter poked their heads out of the front door to see what was going on as well. After my initial health check on the four men from the white car I hadn’t had any more words to, or from, them and let the officers on the scene sort things out. Once it was determined that everyone was alright and that the front of the house wasn’t going to fall over it was all rather anticlimatic. The relief I felt was matched the next day when we found out that the driver actually had insurance (though I suspected that wouldn’t be the case much longer).

He was insured by Farmer’s, which called and apologized on behalf of their client and arranged for an appraiser and an engineer to come out and examine the house. While the yard and shrubs were looking pretty rough, the damage to the house was negligible. There was a very thin vertical crack in the stucco underneath the dining room window. The engineer also expressed his admiration for the construction techniques of our home, which was built in 1948. He showed my wife where the rim joist the house rests on was actually constructed of two joists sistered together, and that according to his instruments the rim joist had moved all of 1/16 of an inch before snapping back into place. No doubt the hard landing in my front yard and the resulting slide through my greenery had diminished the impact which was fortunate for us and for the driver and his passengers. The driver was also fortunate that he had hit where he did; if he had gone just a little further to the left he would have been into the front porch and probably would have brought the portico down on top of himself.

All in all, God was looking out for us and for the drunk joker. We also got a little money out of deal and the house has stayed solid ever since. Perhaps best of all, the soon-to-be-driving Diva received an up-close example of the combination of alcohol, speed, mass and friction.

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