Tuesday, 17 January 2012

On a car crash

I will preface this by saying only that it is an account of something I remember from five or six years ago, and that I have tried to be as truthful as possible whilst writing it. This is the first time I have written anything down about the incident, so I can't claim that everything will be absolutely correct, but I have done my best. There are news reports about the incident at the bottom.

Nothing had appeared wrong as the two cars overtook us at speed. Sure, they were going bloody quick - ninety, a hundred maybe - but there was little to suggest anything unusual. They were just a bunch of boy racers out on a Friday night to us. We were driving up to Derbyshire for a weekend away in a youth hostel with friends, and our route took us past the Starcity entertainment complex in Nechells.

The area surrounding the complex is fairly industrial. It's a stones throw, both geographically and architecturally, from Spaghetti Junction; the roads here pass over one another, suspended high in the air by monolithic concrete pillars. This place is the embodiment of the word  'brutalist'.

The two cars in question rounded the right-hand bend ahead, seemingly disappearing into the night as quickly as they had sprung from it. We thought nothing of it. The scene that confronted us as we rounded the bend ourselves was nothing short of catastrophic. A burnt out wreck of a vehicle was sat on the road ahead of us, black, smoking and silent as the grave. The silence would turn out to be the strangest part: we had heard nothing..

We simply could not believe it. This car had obviously been there for some time, how had it not been moved? This was a city centre dual carriageway, not some sleepy lane out in the country where an arsonist's plaything could lie dead without causing any further harm. How could a car here be this utterly decimated without having fallen from the carriageway above? The arnco was in tact.

Slowly, it began to dawn on us. The reality hit home when we saw that there were people still inside. Or rather, they would have been, had the twin concepts of 'inside' and 'outside' still been applicable to the mangled wreckage that lay strewn before us, and had the occupants still, in fact, been people.

We were the second or third vehicle at the scene. My mum bought our van to a stop some distance from the remains of the car and the concrete block it had struck. I don't know whether this was a conscious decision or one made simply out of shock. My dad immediately got out and began running towards wreckage, but not before warning us to stay exactly where we were. I'm grateful for this years later, but at the time I wanted to do anything I could to help. I felt stifled. In reality, however, there was little any of us could have done at all. Two of them were already dead. One of these was still wearing his seat belt, though it transpired that a large part of him actually occupied an entirely different seat.

For me, the rest of the night is a blur. There are flashes of my mother going to the scene herself and returning astonished, in tears. The emergency services weren't long, but my dad has described to us how, in the time it took them to arrive, him and another member of the public had held a third man's head up to give him some support as he sat dying. He told us that the man's arm was in another lane of the dual carriageway. He told us that the only reason he had been able to cope with what was going on was because it simply did not seem real to him. I was surprised at the time how strong he was about the whole thing, even at fifteen I would have expected to be able to read something like that, though I'm not sure that the gravity of the situation had really hit him until the inquest, when he was visibly upset for several days.

Of the four men that set off in that car, heading to work at the Birmingham post sorting office, one survives. He was silent at the inquest. I'm not sure now if he was the driver and if his silence was borne of shame, but I wouldn't be surprised if he could not recall a thing anyway. They never found the other car that had been racing with them, it had disappeared into the ether. I wonder if the occupants of that car ever feel guilt? Do they even know what happened? It begs another question; were all of those in the crashed car complicit in their night time adventure, and would they have done the same had they been in the driving seat? Would they risk their youth, would they risk everything, the same as the driver had, for a thrill on a Friday night?

But here is the thing about youth and youthful vigor; sometimes I feel as if the only true brashness would be to waste it, to not take every chance or act on every whim without a thought,  but I think a little more and realise that it can't last forever, and that it's worth not giving in to some of those whims to prolong it.