After two warm days, January 18, 2001 was cold and sunny, prompting everything that had previously melted to freeze again. I had a morning meeting at the Rose Art Museum in Waltham, followed by lunch with an old friend who had moved to San Diego long ago, so I dressed nicely, even wearing my mink coat. I brought along a tote bag with David’s bar mitzvah album to share with my friend over lunch.
From my house I have two ways to get to the Brandeis campus: driving up Rt 30 (Commonwealth Ave), which has lots of traffic lights, though by that time of the morning there is little traffic, or drive the seven minutes to I 90, the Mass Pike to the Weston Exit, and take South Street into Waltham to Brandeis. I was never certain which way was better, but that day I chose to take the Mass Pike. I never took it again.
I was about half-way to my exit when I lost control of my car. I was driving about 67 miles per hour (a little fast) in my BMW 540i stick shift. I was in the middle of three lanes and suddenly spun out, crossing the left lane quickly, bouncing off the left guard rail, which propelled me across the entire highway. I hit the right front fender against the right guard rail, spun 180 degrees, hit the back of my car and came to rest, facing in the wrong direction on a high speed highway. Though buckled in, my head snapped forward and hit the steering wheel. I was wearing prescription sunglasses, which smooshed against the bridge of nose. I was stunned, in shock. I was extremely fortunate that I did not encounter another car as I ricocheted across all the lanes of the highway. This all could have been so much worse than it was, perhaps fatal.
Left, rear fender
Front of BMW
The first state trooper to arrive had been behind me and actually saw the accident. He was not the officer in charge but merely on his way west to the crime lab in Sudbury and stopped to check on me. He told me I’d hit a patch of black ice. I was unaware. I was alert and, except for wounds visible to him (at that moment, I didn’t know I was injured), I thought I was OK. He called for an ambulance and waited for the responding officer to show up. The two of them chatted for a moment (that’s how I know where the first officer was headed). I got out of my car to check on the damage, which was extensive. I really did think I was OK. I got back in my car to stay clear of cars whizzing by at high speed.
The other state trooper came to my car, opened up my passenger door. At this point, I realized something was dripping down from my forehead, so I touched it, then licked my finger to get off the liquid. He observed this. He instructed me to NOT touch my purse to get out my driver’s license or get my registration from the glove compartment. If I touched anything, he’d have to put on latex gloves (which he didn’t want to do – still fearful of AIDS in 2001). I was in shock, not thinking clearly, and just automatically reached for my wallet. I had PISSED him off. Now he HAD to put on those damn gloves. What a nuisance I was, this rich lady driving a fancy car, wearing a mink coat! He had no compassion for someone who was clearly injured and not thinking clearly.
I grabbed my phone, an old Motorola flip phone. I didn’t know how to program numbers in it. I had a sticker with the numbers of my kids’s schools. I knew the Rose number by heart, called that to tell them I wouldn’t make the meeting. By that point, another state trooper, who seemed to be a supervisor, showed up. He took my phone away, told me to stop calling. I told him I had to call my lunch appointment to tell him I would not make it. He said he would call. I gave him the number, which was on a yellow sticky note. He looked at my license and said that “Elizabeth- ‘mispronounced the last name’ wouldn’t show up”. My friend got some scrambled message (probably didn’t even know my name is Elizabeth; when I spoke with him later in the day, he had waited some time for me to show up for lunch, was very upset about the whole thing, then wondered why I didn’t call him. Yeah, right).
By this time, the ambulance had arrived. I was placed on a stretcher, my neck immobilized. My mink coat was thrown across the hood of my car. I made sure it made it onto the gurney, along with my tote bag with David’s album. As everything was loaded on, I saw the state trooper write me a ticket and place it in the tote bag. “You’re not giving me a ticket are you?” He replied, “Well someone has to pay for the guard rails.” I was beyond astonished. I was furious. I later learned that if I was at fault, my insurance paid for the guard rail repair. If I was not at fault, the state paid. I told him the first state trooper told me I’d hit black ice. He said HE didn’t see any (an hour later).
I was taken to Newton-Wellesley Hospital. I asked if the car could be towed to Foreign Motors West on Rt 27 in Natick, where we had bought the car. They complied with my wishes. We later went out to their body shop, not in Natick, but that was fine.
My forehead was stitched up, I had no other complications. (The scar healed completely.) I called a taxi to get home before my children arrived home. Dan was out of town on business. I gingerly called him. He was kind, he said, “That’s why we have accident insurance”. I healed, the car was declared a total loss and we replaced it with an exact duplicate. (That was the car that I “lost” a few years later.)
I went before a magistrate to protest the ticket. He and some “expert” listened closely to all the details. He asked me questions about the initial skid and the trajectory of the spin. Then he declared against me. I couldn’t believe it. I burst into tears (of course I did). If I wanted to fight further, my assigned court date was in May, the day we were set to leave for Martha’s Vineyard for the season…oh fun!
I confess, I got advice from a lawyer, who told me how the proceedings would go down, how to prepare. This time, the state trooper would be there. We would each have an opportunity to state our position before a judge, offer evidence (I brought my photos) and I could question the trooper. She said she should NOT be there. I would not garner sympathy if it was known that I had gotten legal advice.
Newton District Court was being renovated, so we convened in Cambridge. Mine was the second case on the docket. I paid close attention to the first case. I saw that I could say just about anything to the trooper, as long as I said it in the form of the question (like in Jeopardy). He stated his “facts”, I stated mine and showed the judge my photos, who asked when I’d taken them (before the days of iPhones) – when we visited the car at the body shop a few days after the accident to remove my belongings. They, of course, backed up my version of the accident. My final question to the trooper was, “Do you remember saying to me, ‘Someone has to pay for the guard rails?'” He claimed he did not remember. But I got that into the record. I won the case, did not have to pay the ticket and best of all, did not have a moving violation on my insurance for years in the future.
And we made our afternoon ferry. Vacation had begun.