Miracle for Jen
- Wednesday, March 14, 2012
We had to go a little out of our way to get the food, so we didn’t take the usual route home from church. Andy parked and went in to pick up our order while the rest of us waited in the van. After what seemed like a long time, Josh asked if he could go inside to see what the holdup was. I said he could and he jumped out, ignoring the cold despite his thin T-shirt, and walked purposefully inside as only an eleven-year-old going to check on his father can do.
In another five minutes, my two men came back carrying their bounty: four big buckets of just-fried KFC. Andy put his two on the floor beside me, and Josh put his on the seat between him and Jen. She was busily texting Brandon, despite the fact that she had seen him ten minutes before and expected to see him again in another five. I could feel the heat from the containers at my feet. Our meal would still be piping hot by the time we arrived home.
Andy’s cell phone rang. It was his brother, John. “Where are you guys?” he asked, three-fourths teasing, one-fourth annoyed. “We’re waiting in your driveway, along with the rest of your company! Are you on your way?”
“Yeah,” Andy assured him. “The guy at KFC had to fry some extra chicken to fill our order, but we’ll be home in five minutes.”
Andy turned onto Waterlick Road, a narrow, two-lane street we both traveled dozens of times a week that ran within a mile of the house. It was an old-fashioned country lane with open drainage ditches on both sides, leaving scarcely a car width of shoulder between pavement and drop-off. I’d noticed those ditches in the past—the neighborhood was outgrowing its old rural roads—but didn’t give them a moment’s thought now. It was a quiet, clear Sunday night, the moon etched bright against the dark sky. Not much traffic.
I was thinking ahead to a house full of friends and warm fellow-ship only a few turns away. I’d put on some coffee, and Andy would get the fire going in the fireplace and turn on the football game. Josh was eager to tell us about his big plays at the baseball tournament and how they won the championship game. The in-laws looked forward to a visit with each other, and we’d all celebrate a wonderful concert and an inspired sermon.
But that’s not what happened. Jen didn’t see Brandon, Josh didn’t tell us about his ball game, Andy and I didn’t visit with our friends, and no one ate any chicken.
Instead, within a matter of seconds, our lives would change forever.
As we were all sitting in church watching Jennifer sing, a man I’ll call “Carl Johnson,” though that isn’t his real name, was sitting in a restaurant across town ordering one drink after another. Carl was twenty-six and had a long history of drinking and driving. In fact, on that night he didn’t have a valid driver’s license or auto insurance. Since Carl had more than twenty traffic violations, his license had been revoked. He had been convicted twice for DUI and arrested for a third, which upon conviction would mean mandatory jail time. That charge was still pending; otherwise, Carl would have been locked up and off the street that night.
Carl paid for his drinks and staggered outside to his 1979 Chevy truck. He stabbed his key at the ignition switch, started the en-gine, and careened onto Timberlake Road, barely missing other cars that honked and swerved to get out of the way. Within seconds he was barreling down the road and sideswiped a Ford Explorer going in the same direction.
Fortunately, that driver, whom I’ll call Don, had seen Carl in his rearview mirror and prepared as much as possible in the split second before impact. He corrected the skid and followed Carl, call-ing 911 as he drove.
“We’ve been hit by a truck . . . and he’s not stopping!” Don re-ported. He continued to follow the weaving truck and feed infor-mation to the 911 dispatcher. “He’s heading down Waterlick Road toward [Highway] 811.”
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