Didn’t plan on this becoming that kind of blog, but I’m too keyed up right now to go to sleep, so maybe writing this will help.
I was on the way home from church (Wednesday night Bible study and prayer time). It was around 9 pm. Typically, my five-year-old daughter is with me but I had decided earlier today not to let her accompany me to church tonight. It had snowed a significant amount the last two days and it’s supposed to hover around freezing all night and frankly if something happened, I didn’t want a young child with me in the cold and the dark. She was super bummed because I was supposed to teach tonight. I told her it was okay, tonight’s lesson was about Adam and Eve, and she knows that one pretty well.
Anyway, I’m driving home on our local Interstate highway. I’m about 10 miles from home when I come upon a car with their flashers on, sitting in the middle of the road.
Stopped. In. The. Middle.
Speed limit of 70 miles an hour. In the dark. In wet, freezing conditions.
I immediately put my flashers on and pulled over to the side. Automatically, I assumed that someone had some kind of medical emergency. Why else would you be in the middle of an Interstate highway not moving?
I got out and started to wave for people to slow down so I could get over to the car. Luckily it was a straightaway so traffic slowed down enough for me to go see if I could help. Maybe I needed to help push the car off the road?
Suddenly the car started driving again. I say “suddenly”, but 10 mph doesn’t really lend itself to that word. Their flashers stayed on and they moved into the right lane (they had been straddling both lanes of traffic). I got back into my car and thought, “Oh, I guess it’s car trouble. Cool.” They headed for the next exit.
Except… they didn’t get off at the exit. The car pulled off onto the shoulder beneath the underpass and stopped. I again assumed that it was a medical emergency… maybe a heart attack or something… I don’t know. I pulled up behind the car, got out, and started walking. That’s when I noticed the “Baby On Board” sticker. As a daddy, things became a bit more real at that moment.
I walked to the passenger side window and looked in.
The windows were foggy and it was dark, light snow spitting down, everything back-lit by the headlights of vehicles passing us. I did not immediately see a baby or a car seat, so that was a huge relief. I could see the glow of a cell phone from the front seat. It was being held by the driver, an Hispanic man, probably my age (30ish). He was staring at the phone. I waved frantically to get his attention, but he didn’t turn. I reached past the front of the car and waved in front of the windshield.
He turned his head slowly.
It was really eerie, the lighting of the phone, the blood-shot, tired eyes, the slack jaw. It was as if he was turning in slow motion. He looked at me, and I shouted “Are you alright?” through the closed window. I can’t remember now if he said “Yes” or “Yeah” or if he just nodded, but I knew something was wrong. He was either high or drunk.
I walked back to my car and got in. In hindsight, should I have knocked on the window and tried to talk with him? I don’t know. I’m a just a teacher… I’m not trained for this stuff.
Immediately I dialed 911. The dispatch had just picked up when the car started driving again! He merged onto the Interstate at 15 mph, with trucks horns blaring and brake lights gleaming. The dispatcher picked up and I just started talking, having the presence of mind to start with my location and mile marker (302.4…). I would interrupt myself with a play-by-play of the myriad close calls, and she transferred me to the State Police. By that time the driver had gotten several car lengths ahead of me and was continuing to drive erratically. I gave the second dispatcher the details of what was going on and they said they’d send someone out. Then the line disconnected.
It’s at this moment that I started praying. Out loud and directly. “Please protect this man. Please protect the people around him. Please Lord protect me.” I continued praying to God and thanking Jesus every time the man almost collided with another vehicle or ran off the road.
I managed to maneuver up to get behind my driver (because at this point I’d started thinking of him as my responsibility). I put on my flashers and pumped my brakes frequently to let the people behind us that not all was well. I tried to point for the people behind me to change lanes, to go around us. I don’t know if they saw my arm. I was hoping for a cop car to show up any moment, but they didn’t come.
As we approached my exit, I had to decide if I was going to continue to try and protect my guy from injuring himself and others or if I was going to pull off and go home to my family. I hadn’t called my wife to let her know what was going on. I was too focused on the task at hand. I continued praying and we drove past my exit.
I decided then that I would be following my man until he got home safe. Which was a little scary for me, but now, looking back, I believe this is why God sent me alone to church tonight.
My driver continued to drive erratically on up the Interstate, driving off into the snow a couple times at terribly slow speeds while trucks and cars flew by on the other side. Then he’d go on for a ways and then slide slowly into the right lane, one time actually going under a tractor trailer for a split second before jerking the wheel back over to the left lane. On that particular occasion, I lost my cool and screamed at the man in tears, leaning into the horn. That one was definitely a God-send.
He eventually, finally meandered over to an exit and onto a secondary highway. I pulled up behind him and called 911 again, since no state trooper had come during our low-speed chase. I got a different dispatcher and I was again transferred to the state police. The light turned green and my man started driving again, turning left and going across a bridge. I was thinking clearer now, the heady experience of high-speed near-misses now behind us. As my guy drove on, the state police dispatcher got back on as we drove and said that no troopers were “even remotely near” enough to get there. She transferred me back to the county dispatch.
The dispatch came back on and when I told him what the state police lady had said, he started asking specific questions about where we were, what we were doing, landmarks we passed, mile-markers we were on. I don’t remember the specifics, but he asked me something, and I said…
“I don’t know, but I’m following this guy until he’s pulled over or he arrives home safely.”
At that moment, for whatever reason, I had a peace wash over me. The dispatcher actually chuckled and shortly after, he asked me what car I was driving. I told him.
He said, “Do you have your flashers on?”
“Move over. The officer is behind you.”
I pulled over, and a Sheriff car pulled up right on my guy.
I asked the dispatcher, “What do I do now?”
“That’s up to you,” he said.
The police officer’s lights flashed and my man, who’d been driving in the left lane for what seemed life forever stopped. In the left lane. Typical.
I pulled over onto the right shoulder with my flashers on, thanking God for His faithfulness and helping us and all the folks on the road tonight. I called my wife, then waited. I rolled down the window down and heard the police officer speaking with my driver en Español. After about five minutes another police officer pulled up. Then another. At last one of the officers came up to me.
“Thank you sir, but you don’t have to stay,” he said.
“Thank you.” I rolled up my window and drove away.
As I got off at then next exit to begin my trek back home, I stopped and broke down a bit. YHWH is a personal God and wants a relationship with every one of the people here on Earth, even and especially my man in the crazy little car tonight. My heart breaks for him, because who knows what brought him to this point in his life. Perhaps he was lost and he didn’t know how to drive and he was desperate. I don’t know.
All I know is, I love him. Jesus loves him. And God uses us to accomplish His work. Who knows how many my man could’ve killed tonight. But thank God he didn’t. And thank God he kept my baby girl home tonight and gave me an opportunity to do what was right. He gets all the glory for this.
It’s 11:44. I think I can sleep now. G’night, folks. God bless you. 🙂