By Eric Riebling
It's been about a week since we wrecked our van and trailer, but that doesn't make writing about it any easier. I was all set to go online and send you an all-points bulletin right from the scene, for that up-to-the-minute information that the Internet seems to thrive on. Sorry, you get this instead.
We were done with our shows in Colorado, which were amazing, by the way. I think we're all ready to move to Boulder. Anyhow, we were also excited to be headed home for Pittsburgh. We had cleared the long downhill stretch from Aspen, and were glad to be on solid (flat) ground, headed East on I-70 through Kansas.
On our CB radio we heard some chatter that sounded interesting. It sounded something like "Gaw, they're going the wrong way!" Moments later, we saw what they meant: someone was driving right towards us, headed west in the Eastbound passing lane. Brian Duffy (our road manager) was driving, and decided to veer towards the median to avoid a head-on. There was a car to our right in the travel lane, so that wasn't an option.
We probably would have cleared the oncoming car, except that they veered towards us at the last minute, impacting just behind the front passenger side. What happened next was spectacular. We went into a double barrel-roll into the median, and they spun around and came to rest on the opposite shoulder. Since most of us had been in a van wreck before, we tried to take it in stride. Once things go tumbling, all you can do is hold on and pray. And our prayers seem to have gone answered, because we're all still alive to tell about it.
The trailer separated and as one trucker described it on the radio, "bounced like a ball" across the median. Our equipment was strewn everywhere, making for an interesting clean-up. Several people were there to help provide first-aid and assistance right away, including motorists, state troopers, and truckers. And we needed it. Although he was walking and talking, Bill seemed to be hurt pretty bad, with difficulty breathing, and blood coming from the side of his head. We all ended up stiff and sore, though at the moment, adrenaline seemed to cover up any pain.
We all got rides to Logan County hospital in Oakley Kansas, some in an ambulance, some with state troopers. One of the squad cars was a plainclothes Camaro. It's no surprise he made it to the scene first, having traveled as fast as 145mph. Bill was on a stretcher with head blocks, and looked the worst from our bunch. He ended up spending the night in the hospital. And not a very restful one, either, being woken up every 90 minutes to make sure his brain was still functioning properly.
During the wait for medical attention, I learned about the occupants of the other vehicle. It turns out they were an elderly couple in their mid-80s, who were confused about their predicament. It seems they thought they were on a 2-lane state road parallel to the interstate, not on it. And later on, we were saddened to learn that the wife didn't survive her injuries. Our sympathies go out to their friends and families, and we appreciate their concerns as well. A couple of them were even kind enough to offer to let us stay at their farmhouse.
We still didn't know about the condition of our gear until Brian got back from the accident scene, where he had been assessing damages and helping pack the wrecked vehicles and equipment onto trailers and off the road. All the guitars survived, but some of the other equipment was destroyed. My new bass was found face down on the opposite side of the interstate, amazingly still playable. (Thank Fender for making rock-solid guitars!) My speaker cabinets are, as Ray put it, firewood.
Once we got out of the hospital, we were given a police escort to a nearby truckstop, and probably made quite a scene. You see, truckers and police by nature don't socialize together. It makes sense, given their conflicting views on things like speed limits. But to see this banged-up crew of musicians sharing a meal and having a good time with - police, well, it was interesting. It was funny passing the Tylenol bottle around the table, one by one, admitting that we could use a little pain relief. But the overall tone of the gathering was definitely one of relief. I've never appreciated a meal so much, even if I did have to eat left-handed.
Thanks to their typically Midwestern open friendliness, we were treated quite well by the folks in Oakley, Kansas, who all seemed to know about 'the wreck.' We've got to thank Mel's Garage, where our wreck and equipment were stored, Don's Drive-in, the closest and best hamburger joint in Oakley (straight out of the 1950s!), and the Kansas Kountry Inn, where we stayed. They even let us use their pickup truck to get around. Not to mention the state troopers who provided transportation to and from the hospital and motel the night of the accident.
Another tragic wreck we're in, and once again, seemingly miraculous forces let the band survive to play another day. It wasn't in a twister, but we definitely went for a whirl in Kansas, and are just glad to be here to say, 'There's no place like home.'
© 1997 by Eric Riebling. Reprinted with
permission by Marbles (TM). All rights
Text, graphics and photos may NOT be reproduced without permission.