January 25, 2012 by Gina
It’s a brisk Sunday afternoon in Minnesota – a typically cold winter day with snow falling and the wind blowing. The sky is alternately cloudy and overcast and minutes later, sunny. It would be an idyllic day if you were snowshoeing or ice fishing, but these icy, snowy days can be treacherous on the highway. That’s exactly where I found myself this past Sunday afternoon. Finn, Getty and I were driving home from three days at my parents’ house. We got to their house on Thursday and didn’t leave the house until Sunday – it was great to spend time with them and the boys just love Grandma Cheryl and Grandpa Tom!
As we drove back to Minneapolis, the boys were sleeping soundly in the back seat, buckled into their car seats. We were about halfway through our trip and I was driving well under the speed limit in the slow lane. The roads were a bit icy and I was in no hurry – I wanted the boys to nap as long as possible. As we passed the first exit to St. Cloud, I noticed the cars ahead of me were getting backed up and saw flashing lights about a mile ahead. It looked like a pretty bad accident.
In anticipation of having to stop on the interstate and wait for the accident to clear, I slowed down and turned on my hazard lights to let the drivers behind me know to do the same thing. Luckily, the car behind me did exactly the same thing and there was no one immediately ahead of me. Unfortunately, the cars in the left lane right next to me were bunched up too closely for these type of driving conditions. I noticed the pickup truck right next to me was having a hard time slowing down and he was about to rear-end the SUV in front of him. I slowed down and started to move over toward the shoulder of the highway – the pick up was trying to sneak between the car in front of him and me in the right lane to avoid a crash. He might have made it, but then he was rear-ended by the van behind him. He slammed into the SUV in front of him and pushed my Honda Fit further onto the shoulder and into the ditch.
BAM! In a few short seconds, I had gone from a normal drive home to landing in the ditch and being involved in a four-car accident. The pickup truck was in the ditch ahead of me with the front and rear-end smashed. The SUV and the van were on the other side of the highway with significant damage. Car parts littered the interstate and our fellow eastbound traffic tried to avoid the wreckage of our crash. Immediately, all the occupants of the four vehicles were outside their respective cars and yelling to see if anyone was hurt. Thankfully, not one person in any of the vehicles was injured – not a scratch! Everyone remained calm and collected and repeatedly checked to make sure no one was hurt.
My thoughts immediately went to Finn and Getty in the backseat! So many thoughts ran through my head as my car was pushed off the interstate. It’s amazing how quickly the brain can process thoughts and emotions – “oh crap, I’m in an accident; are we going to be injured; what if my kids are hurt or me; how could this be happening – I was doing everything right; what now; will my car be drivable; fear; anxiety; adrenaline”. As soon as my car came to a stop, I looked back and both boys were just waking up. They didn’t even notice we had been in an accident. Surprisingly, I was very calm and just told Finn we’d be stopped for a while because we had been in a “little accident”. I gave him his vReader and he was thrilled!
The Minnesota State Highway Patrol arrived on the scene within minutes and the patrolman handled everything calmly and as quickly as possible. We waited for almost an hour for him to talk to all of us individually and write up all of our information and the details of the accident. In the meantime, we mostly stayed in our cars or assessed the damage to our individual vehicles. The pick up truck occupants were two young men in what looked to be their early 20s. They kept asking me if I was okay and if my kids were okay. I just wanted to hug them – they were so concerned and clearly shaken. I reminded them that all of us were safe and that accidents happen. They couldn’t help what happened and that the most important thing was that we were all okay. It helped – they were visibly relieved.
I’ve never been in a four-car accident and hope I never will be again. Despite that, it was amazing to see how all of us involved stayed calm and took care of each other through our words and actions. We were all strangers, thrown into this situation that none of us wanted to be in. I often hear the term “Minnesota Nice” with a bad connotation, but in this situation it was an asset. We all knew that there was nothing we could do but wait it out, make sure everyone was safe and be thankful for this outcome. That’s at least how I felt at the time and even more so now. What could have been a horrible outcome was mitigated by all of our individual actions. More than anything else, I’m grateful that my children and my family made it safely home on a wintery, snowy Minnesota day!