When I think of car accidents what comes to mind for me is fender benders and rearenders. I feel like what the 17 of us in that van endured last Sunday was more than a car accident, not to sound morbid but it honest to God felt more like a failed attempt at murder than anything else. In a blink of an eye we went from standing in our seats shaking our butts to Outkast Hey Ya, to the vivid image of seeing all of our best friends helpless bodies thrash right and then left.
It was Sunday April 3. For my friend Kelsey’s birthday, her dad rented a shuttle-like van to take us all to Temecula to wine taste for the afternoon. Kelsey and most of her closest friends live in San Dimas so we met there before piling into the van. All dolled up, we had a few glasses of mimosas at at her house and got on the road around noon. We were 22 people total Kelsey’s dad Kirk, and girlfriend were driving our van, and Kelsey’s sister and husband driving a sedan behind us. I was one of the last to climb into the bus and kindly enough all the seats were taken besides the fifth row back right corner, which I hesitantly climbed back to. I had no premonition or anything of what was to come but with a few glasses in me I was squirmy an vocal about hating my hot, sun baked corner seat spot. When we stopped at a gas station about 5 minutes in I got my beloved Kenneth 3 rows up on the right side to let me sit on his lap, I was instantly happy and finally excited for the hour car ride ahead of us.
The the next 35-40 minutes were an absolute blast. Nayla’s DJ-ing was on point and we couldn’t help but unbuckle our seat belts and dance to every single song. At 12:46 my sister sent me a text saying “have fun, love you, send me snaps”. She had seen my snap chat story, and after the fact had told me that seeing all the dancing and such a packed van with no seatbelts gave her a nervous feeling that caused her to text me. I replied a kiss emoji and a wine glass at 12:53 and at 1:03 she received a sobbing phone call.
It was during the part that goes shake it, shake, shake it, shake it, shake, shake it when out of no where my whole body slammed forward against the seat in front of me. The moment I felt it I knew exactly what was happening, the only thought in my head was “this is happening”. Everything went into the slowest of slow motion. The I-pod immediately pulled out of the auxiliary and everything went silent. No one screamed, but I can still hear in my head 17 of the most fearful audible inhales. The first hit was to our left back corner in the carpool lane which put us on the trajectory towards the center cement freeway divider. The second hit, into the divider, is hazier than the first. Because I was on a lap, with with my legs in the isle to my left, I was essentially facing the back three rows of the van. I braced and tensed by body between the seat in front and beside me, all I can remember is hair and heads forcefully thrashing backwards. Still almost 70mph the van headed forward but beginning to tip. The tipping feeling is what puts my stomach in a knot. The over-turning and slam down to the ground I do not clearly remember. I can vaguely hear in my head the awful screeching as we skidded on our right side down the freeway about 50 yards.
As we were screeching and skidding I was wholeheartedly expecting to be hit by oncoming traffic. I think in that moment of anticipation for a split second I did think that would be the end. Up until that point I had no intention of dying, I was engaging and bracing so hard I had no time to think about death, I was completely preoccupied with surviving. But that millisecond where I surrendered to the possibility of ‘that being it’, was strangely placid. I came-to once the van had completely come to a stop. Everything was completely silent besides a banging noise at the front of the van. I immediately smelt a strong sent of gasoline and started to hyperventilate. As simple as it was, I vividly remember my first and only thought being “oh my god, oh my god, oh my god“. All I knew in that moment was that I needed to get out fast. The only door to the van was on the right side against the ground, so the windshield was my only way out. I knew that I couldn’t get out until at least 5 were out in front of me. The selfishness in that moment is whats most haunting. I started talking out loud calmly, and repeatedly saying “it’s gonna be okay, we need to get out, we’re okay, lets try and get out“. This orating was no brave act of heroism but was the only logical step towards my eventual exit from the van. At this point Kirk’s girl friend had successfully kicked out the frot windshield barefoot, and people from outside we’re helping peel back the glass. I stood up, it was dark inside, the air bags had all gone off. Because the van was on its side the people in the left two seats were holding on tight to suspend themselves and not crush Kenneth and I and the others on the right.
I remember seeing Kelsey’s face covered in blood, and Kenneth beneath me spattered in it. I had lost my shoes and belongings. When it was finally my turn to exit, as I walked in a crouch towards the hole in the windshield I was grateful to feel the shards of glass in my feet because in that moment I knew I was getting out. Once out, I must have stood in the freeway just blankly staring for what only could have been a few seconds before my fight or flight response receded and I cried out for my friends. Before I could even finish yelling Kenneth, Danielle, Jeremy… I laid eyes on them all alive and standing or crawling out of the van. Beating myself up over that selfish minute of thinking about none but my own life, I immediately started hugging those capable helping those incapable.
All 22 involved in the accident made it out alive and miraculously with out even a broken bone. I’m not sure if it’s luck, or fate, angels, or really what to call it, but I’m beyond grateful that everyone is okay, and I know, in time, we will all physically and emotionally heal.