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Did I Save a Life?

My intent, when I stepped into my car today, was to stop by one of my favorite restaurants to get one of my favorite meals to give me some joy before likely working another 16-hour shift. Instead, I found myself watching a vehicle drifting between three lanes on the freeway. With every overcorrection, I hoped the driver would wake up, have some sense, and get off the highway to stop and recuperate. My hopes were blatantly ignored with each slow drift into another driver’s lane.

My first thought was to go around and keep moving. It’s better to avoid danger than pursue it. I sped past, looking in my rearview mirror. Repeatedly, the driver drifted, swerved back into the original lane, and drifted again. Was the driver drunk, belligerent, sleepy, or having a medical emergency? Others kept swerving out of the pickup truck’s way. The more I watched, the more my mind changed.

I called the police. I knew they’d want the license plate, make, and model. So, I turned my emergency lights on and pulled all the way to the right lane. I slowed down, knowing people were confused by my actions. My lights were on, but I was not entering the shoulder lane. As I was speaking with the dispatch personnel, I watched the driver slowly get ahead of me. I approached from the rear, at a safe distance, to get the license plate.

By the time the conversation had ended, and police were “on their way”, we had gone three or four miles. My emergency lights stayed on. I was doing everything in my power to make sure everyone saw what was happening. I guarded the lines from lane switchers and speeders. I intentionally blocked cars from getting too close. It was my way of saying, “You need to pay attention to what’s happening on this highway!”

That’s when I saw traffic coming. The 60mph was quickly becoming 20mph. My thoughts turned to fear. I just knew this driver wouldn’t react in time and severely hurt an unsuspecting driver. A rear-end that would whiplash a neck, deploy the air bags, or send someone flying through their windshield. However, just before the traffic became too thick, the driver slammed on the brakes.

Surely, the driver would be awake now. They would pull over and reassess their mental state, or at the very least, they would be boxed in and forced to pay attention. No. Instead, every few feet, the driver drifted into another lane, unintentionally threatening to ruin someone’s day. The tailing continued…

We came to a merging lane. The driver drifted into the lane for the cars onboarding from the street. I stayed behind, cutting off the drivers from a safe distance. “Go around. Don’t try to merge at the last minute unless you want to be merged into an accident.” I even rolled down my window and warned a young lady that the driver ahead was unstable and should be avoided. My words resonated as the driver drifted into another lane again. My methods worked for some, but not all.

*Boom!* The driver struck the next truck ahead. They both came to a stop. I was relieved. It was the kind of hit that wouldn’t severely hurt anyone. Now, the driver would have to get out of the car and share insurance information.

The one who was rear-ended exited his vehicle. He approached, not knowing that the state of mind of the driver was not as sane as one would expect. He made gestures; he seemed confused. Whatever the driver was saying, it wasn’t making any sense. Unsure, the man returned to his pickup truck, and both of them continued driving.

No way! How did a driver hit you, and you decide to say, “No big deal,” and keep driving!? I pulled up beside the man and asked about the conversation. He didn’t understand what was going on with the driver who hit him, but from the way he merged three lanes away and sped off, he knew he didn’t want to repeat that bump with the driver. So, I continued to follow just in case the driver needed more help than could be found at the moment. It wasn’t safe.

Now, another highway was merging into ours. Their speed was much faster than the people coming from the street. The split decisions depended on half-second reactions. My stress levels rose again. People were driving faster, merging faster, and swerving more frequently. Here, the danger would hit!

Bam! Another car was nudged. Life started to repeat right before my eyes. The lady exited her SUV. She walked up to the window of the driver, waving her hands, and demanding to be heard. She motioned for the driver to roll down the window, but nothing happened. Instead, she backed away, returned to her car, and drove off.

Was I insane? Did I not just witness two drivers let this pickup truck hit them with no consequences? Was no one going to help this driver? Was I the only one watching madness happen in front of me?

The driver continued. Slowly, the truck crept up to an exit ramp. Impatient drivers sped around, not knowing that this driver could swerve into them and ruin their day. This driver was insignificant to them – just a construction cone to drive around. It seemed as if I was the only one paying attention. Perhaps, they were all trusting me to do something since my emergency lights were on. Who knew, but God? Suddenly, the driver came to a stop. The exit was still a quarter-mile away, but the driver was done driving.

Here was the moment. Was the driver drunk, belligerent, or having a medical emergency mid-drive? Would I face a gun aimed at me with questions like, “Why the heck are you following me!? Stranger danger!” *POW POW POW* Who knew but God, because I wasn’t about to walk up and get shot.

Still, I left my emergency lights on and waited from what I deemed to be a safe distance. It was far enough for me to quickly get around, and close enough for no other car to think it was safe to come between the two of us. Cars passed by, unaware that this driver could take off and ram into one of them at any moment. I waited and waited. No police. No help. There were only people ignoring the potential threat on the road.

I had no clue how to handle this. I wasn’t a police officer, but I did know some, so I called them for advice. They tried to call the police as well. Units were on the way. In the meantime, I was advised to leave the driver and go on about my day.

I hated that advice even if I understood it. The driver could have a gun and not leaving could cost my life. However, my life didn’t feel in danger. The one in danger was the one stopped in front of me. I had to do something. Call it a conviction due to growing up watching superheroes save innocent people on cartoons or blame it on growing up listening to the parable of the Good Samaritan found in the 10th chapter of the book of Luke in the Bible. I had to be there for this innocent neighbor. After all, we know not what we do. God said that of us on the cross.

Then, a trucker stopped his big 18-wheeler behind us and put his emergency lights on. My first help in this moment had arrived. He walked up to my window and asked what was going on. I explained that the driver had been swerving, but was stagnant now. The trucker walked up to the driver ahead. I silently prayed that I wouldn’t see a gun. I silently praised the man for being so brave.

The trucker tried to talk with the driver, but nothing was understood. The driver had to have been going through a mental breakdown. The trucker walked back, asked if I had called the police, and began to wait with me. Now, people were definitely going around us, leaving neither of our cars in danger. I could relax a bit.

As I waited for police, who still hadn’t arrived 30 minutes after my initial call, I began to get nervous not having someone to talk to. It hadn’t occurred to me that the last two times I was involved in such an incident, I had my friend with me.

We helped save a woman from a car which quickly became ablaze in a shoulder lane and we saved a man having seizures while his car was in the middle of the road after jumping a median and slamming into a power line pole. Both times, a woman I love, who had more first responder experience and training, was there to tell me what to do and where to position myself. This time, I was without her.

To fully calm down, I called my mother. Her mind processed things as fast as my own and she could remind me of who I am in this situation to calm me down. I told her I just needed to talk to someone, and she, in her motherly way, talked. Explaining everything to her, and having someone, who knew me, aware that I was trying to help someone kept me levelheaded in case things went sideways, which things were still capable of doing.

Fortunately, help arrived not much later. However, it arrived in a way I never thought it would. The lights weren’t red and blue, but yellow and red. Two tow truck drivers pulled up behind us, and made their way to the front. One pulled in front of the driver, and the other pulled up behind the driver. They were competing for a tow, so I didn’t imagine they’d stay after finding out that the driver hadn’t damaged the pickup truck.

They asked me what was happening, and I explained. Automatically, they pinned the driver between their two trucks. The tow trucker in front of the driver approached the same window I had seen three other people approach. I did not have high expectations.

The tow trucker tried to have a conversation, but found himself confused just like the last three people. However, he opened the door, reached inside, took out the keys, and put the truck’s emergency brakes on. Just like that, disaster was averted.

Turns out, the driver had fallen asleep at the wheel. Foot on the brake, the driver was passed out in an exit lane during the middle of heavy traffic. It’s situations like this that make me believe God looks after people. So much could’ve gone horrifically wrong in forty minutes, but all that managed to happen were bumps that left no visible damage (I hope), and a peaceful stop.

More calls to the police were made. Somehow, my conversation had been interpreted to be just an accident, and not a pursuit of a vehicle drifting into other people’s lanes and almost their cars. Now, an ambulance was on the way. The tow truckers were warned not to let the driver fall back asleep. They had taken lead over the situation without hesitation. Even the driver of the 18-wheeler felt comfortable enough to leave. He simply gave the struggling driver a bottle of water and left. It had become a definite medical emergency.

Once that was confirmed, I stepped out of the car. My mother advised to let the tow truck drivers handle it from there and to get to work on time, but who really cares about work when a life is on the line? Things like psychotic breakdowns, seizures, and diabetic shock could severely ruin or kill someone in the right circumstances. No one would be able to stop the driver from dashing away from the vehicle into traffic to get hit.

I approached the vehicle with caution. I drew near the same door that others had tried to speak through. The doors were open. The driver was seated to the side, with feet touching the concrete instead of the floor mat. It was an elder who looked exhausted and very burdened trying to sip on some water gifted by a driver of an 18-wheeler.

My heart broke. I thought of all the relationships that could’ve been ruined if this person had died. What if everyone, including me, had just continued with their day and didn’t stop to help? What if the driver had continued for many more miles and over an hour without medical attention and the medicine that comes with it? Did I just save a life?

All I did was stop and call the police. All I did was go thirty minutes out of the way and watch over someone from a distance. I didn’t do anything miraculous. I didn’t do anything I would think to call heroic. I just cared. Even if it just turned out to be an irresponsible drunk, I only cared about someone other than myself. It didn’t have to be someone I liked, loved, or knew. It just had to be another human being in distress for me to stop and try to help.

Though it made me uneasy, I was convinced by my mother to take my leave of the scene. The tow truckers seemed to have the situation under control, and their vehicles were more noticeable than my car with flashing emergency lights. Finally, I left my information and drove away.

I felt a little guilty leaving the driver before medical personnel arrived. I knew they would be arriving soon, but how soon is soon enough for someone in diabetic shock, dehydration, or some other illness/circumstance that requires immediate medical attention? The tow truckers were possibly only interested in the tow, not the human needing help. Perhaps, they were just like me, but coming from a different background. Either way, as I came back from my U-turn, I saw the ambulance and fire truck parked in the space I had just left. My part was truly over.

Was I a hero, or was I just someone who took a moment to care? Oftentimes, humanity could be saved by such a simple decision. Politicians could make policies that save lives rather than further destroy them. Teachers could save families by educating the future parents rather than leave children in their ignorance. Churches could behave like Christ to save the world rather than make themselves feel better than the rest of the world. The rich could give more to save the poor rather than hoard their riches to feel superior and powerful. Simple decisions can really save a life or many lives. Decide to care.

People love expressing that they no longer care, as if it is a confidence boost, when really it is a poor reaction to the misery they’ve experienced. All too often do people become the very abuse they endured or the silence they have heard in their time of need. Now, everyone puffs their chest out and boasts about not caring. It is the same as saying, “Life has made me inhumane and I’m proud about it!” It is weakness.

Stop, notice, and care. I have done it so many times from the driver drifting down the highway to giving a hug to a coworker who was visibly disturbed. Sometimes, it’s as simple as encouraging someone or taking time out of your day to just listen. Such minor decisions are proven to help prevent suicide, divorce, or murder. Be mindful, be attentive, and be caring.

I know people like to say “let me mind my business” but sometimes not minding your business has saved children, women, and men from domestic violence. Not minding our business has prevented sex trafficking, racism, and corruption within the government. Not minding our business has introduced people to the saving love of Christ. I’m not asking you to meddle in other people’s affairs, or insert yourself into drama without caution. I’m saying, if someone is showing that they need help, offer to help when you can.

The driver wasn’t in the position to ask for help. The man on the side of the road in the Parable of the Good Samaritan was in too poor a shape to help. The child with the bruised skin might not be able to ask for help. The woman wiping her eyes constantly on the train might not think she is capable of asking for help. You don’t have to know their names. You only need to see that they need help in this moment.

I made a decision today, and as a result of that decision, someone was able to get medical attention they needed (as long as the medical staff decided not to require health insurance first). I don’t say this to boast, because I had to change my mind after I already passed the driver. I say this to encourage the next person not to just let things just happen. Do something. Help. Many of those who have the time to read this have the time and ability to help the next person. I encourage you to do that. The next time you feel you should help, go help.

With love,

Dario Augustus


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