Thursday, December 23, 2010

My Haunted Past

This is the devastating tale about the deaths of two individuals and the guilt I’ve had to live with.

It was August 27, 1987, a Friday evening around 5 pm.  I was 19 years old.  I was on the north side of Jacksonville in an area called Ocean Way, just off the side of US 17.  I was working for Royal Lawn Care.  As we finished putting the equipment up for the day, I told the other guys, “I’ll see you Monday.” They said, “Come on, smoke a joint with us.  Have a beer!”  I said, “No, man.  I’m done with that stuff.” I had just met Linda Ann Castle a few weeks earlier.  She was 16 years old, sweet, beautiful and a Christian.  I was trying to turn my life around and get away from drugs and alcohol.  And I just knew I was going to marry her and spend my life with her.  So I jumped in my blue 1979 Buick Regal and told the guys, “Later!”  I pulled out onto US 17 heading north to Yulee Florida, about 15 miles up the road.  I was looking forward to spending the weekend with Ann.  I was cruising down US 17 doing the speed limit, when at Pecan Park Road a wrecker pulling a pick up truck pulled out in front of me.  I had to brake hard to keep from hitting him.  For the next couple of miles he was poking around about 40 mph.  Traffic was building up behind us.  We made the last corner where there was a straight away to Charlie’s Fish Camp and a bridge that was the Nassau Duval County line.  I pulled out to peek around the wrecker.  I saw my opening and I pulled out all the way pushing the accelerator to the floor.  I watched as the speedometer climbed 40, 45, 50, 55, 60, and 65.  I wasn’t pulling ahead of the wrecker because the driver sped up. I finally got around him at just over 65 mph.  I looked up and a big blue tractor-trailer world moving semi is backing out into my lane.  I swerve into the oncoming lane.  There’s a yellow 1980 or 81 Chevy caprice, I believe, with an older man and woman, and everything slowed down.  I screamed.  As the cars hit I could see the horror and terror on their faces.  I held on to the steering wheel with all my mite as the cars impacted head on at 60-65 mph.  The metal just folded over.  The caprice spun out into the ditch.  As the wrecker hit me from behind, an 80’s El Camino hit me from the front. I was trying to come out the window but I was hit two more times from behind, by the truck the wrecker was pulling and a 280Z.  The steering column had broken and was lying over near the passenger seat. The dashboard was on my knees.  I squeezed from under it and climbed out the window falling onto the asphalt.  My nose was broken and blood was pouring onto my shirt.  I stood up and looked at the twisted mangles mess that was my 79 Buick Regal.  The front tie on the driver’s side was pushed back under the floorboard.  The motor was pushed up under the passenger seat. The roof, trunk and quarter panels were buckled.  I glanced around at the other cars and twisted metal.  I looked down at the west side of US 17 at the woods, knowing the railroad tracks were maybe 100 yards on the other side.  Knowing that a mile trek down the railroad tracks would put me at home, I started up the ditch.  I hit the edge of the woods and stopped.  I looked back and thought, “No, I can’t run.” I knew there were some trailers on the east side of US 17, down the road the semi was turning on to.  So I ran back up the embankment, across 17 and down that road.  I saw a trailer and ran up and knocked on the door.  A woman answered and I could see the shocked look on her face, as she looked at me covered in blood.  I said, “I just got in a wreck. I need to call my dad.” She handed me the receiver as I gave her the number in my wallet. My dad’s voice came over the phone, “Hello?”  I said, “Dad, I’ve been in an bad wreck on 17 about a half mile from Charlie’s Fish Camp.  Hurry up and come up here!”  I heard the phone go dead.  I handed the woman the receiver back, saying, “Thank you very much.”  As I headed back to US 17 I stopped to look at my car, which had come to rest right in the middle of 17.  Moments later the police pulled up, Florida Highway Patrol.  My dad arrived right behind them.  He let down the tailgate of the Bronco and I sat down on it.  He said, looking at my car, “You said wreck, I thought you meant fender bender.  I don’t know how you walked away from this.”  The ambulances pulled up on the scene.  I told them I was okay.  I wasn’t going to the hospital.  The state trooper was asking who was driving the Buick Regal.  People pointed over at me.  He came over, pointed at my car and asked, “You were driving that?”  He sounded surprised.  I responded, “Yes.” He said, “I don’t know how you’re alive, much less walking around.” He brought the paramedics over.  I said, “Look, I’m fine.”  They told me I could have internal bleeding.  I said, “I’m fine.  Leave me alone.”

The state trooper took me and put me in the back of his car.  He shut the door and returned a few minutes later and said, “You have two choices.  You either let them take you to the hospital or I’m taking you to jail.”  He was bluffing but I didn’t know it.  So I agreed to go to the hospital.  The paramedics put me on a stretcher, strapped me down, placed me in the back of the ambulance and headed for University Hospital.

When we arrived at University hospital, I was taken into the emergency room.  Curtains were closed on certain patients.  I could hear chaos going on as the medical staff was working on one patient who was flat lining.  As that was taking place on one side of the curtain, I reached up, took the neck brace off, and threw it on the floor and said, “I’m getting out of here.”  The nurse held me down as she yelled for more medical staff.  I said, “Look, I’m okay and I’m getting gout of here.”  The doctor stood over me and said, “You may have internal bleeding and if so, it could kill you.”  And he went on to explain how two cars traveling at 60mph hitting head on can jar the internal organs, causing damage.  I kept repeating that there was nothing wrong with me. 

He said, “Fine.  You can get up and walk out of here and leave.”  I went to rise up and discovered that I couldn’t.  My back had tightened up.  I was like, “Oh s#@*!”  The doctor said, “See, you don’t realize what the impact did.” I said, “I was walking around fine 30 minutes ago.”  He said, “You were running on adrenaline.”  I said, “Fine.  I’ll sign the paper.”  I signed it and was laying there listening to the doctor call the lady’s death and I could hear the medical staff talking about me, saying we were in the same car wreck.  My heart sank.  I could see the faces of her and husband upon impact.  I still have flashbacks of that car wreck and the impact to this very day.  I went through surgery, and woke up with tubes in my nose, in a hole they cut right below my belly button, and in my penis.  I was a bad patient.  As soon as I came to, I pulled the hose out of my nose and was trying to remove the other two when a nurse came in and stopped me.  I said, “I’m getting out of here right now!”  She said, “You need to see the doctor first.”  I said, “Get him cause I’m leaving.” The doctor showed up and again, I agreed to stay and let them observe me.  The two hoses stayed in so they could monitor internal bleeding.  My stepmother, Frances, and Ann came to see me on Sunday.  On Monday I signed myself out against the doctor’s orders.  I had had enough of that hospital.  I lay in bed at the house for about a week, popping pain pills and muscle relaxants.  I started smoking weed and drinking again.  I was trying to dull the pain and the guilt I felt over those people dying.  I went up to the Lit’l Champ store several weeks after I got out of the hospital.  As I was leaving, two rough looking guys (mustaches, beards, denim vests) were walking toward me.  I was 19 years old, 6’4” 180 lbs, skinny and one guy’s name I later learned was Lee said, “Hey! You’re the guy who was in that car wreck!” I looked at him in surprise.  I said, “Yeah, that was me, “ and I continued to walk. He said, “How does it feel to have killed two people?” He partner pulled him, saying, “Leave that alone!” I screamed “M_____ F_____!  I don’t give a f___ about them and I don’t give a f____ about you!”  Lee backed up when he saw me go from non-threatening baby faced to rage!  I can still taste the rage I felt at that moment.  I ended up leaving Ann, to avoid involving her in my drug and alcohol use.  

Two years later, at that same Lit’l Champ store, I pulled in next to a white pickup truck.  I was driving my girlfriend, Tracey’s black 1988 RS Camaro.  As Tracey and I walked into the store, I looked over at the driver of the truck, and recognized Lee.  That flash of rage immediately returned and I started walking towards his truck.  I was mad and he could see it and he threw his truck in reverse and backed out.  I knew I couldn’t catch him on foot so I turned to go back to the store.  Lee pulled back in, toying with me, so I turned back towards him and again, he pulled out.  I walked back to the store and I was cussing.   Tracey said, “Alright, Badass, that’s enough.”  I yelled at her to get in the car, and I jumped in and started the car.  Lee took off and I could see where he was headed.  We were staying at my dad’s house at 716 Trinity Circle, just a block away from the store.  I pulled into the driveway and threw the car into park.  I ran into the front room of the trailer, grabbed my gun from the bedroom and ran out the back door, jumping into my 1982 Z28.  I sped out to chase Lee down.  I caught up with him.  We were on a dirt road when I lost control of my car and put it in a ditch.  I was mad as hell.  He was playing with fire and didn’t know it. 

The day of the accident, Friday, August 27, 1987, still haunts me to this very day.  I have lived and relived that moment for 23 years.  Should have….  Would have….  Could have…. I should have put that car in a ditch or hit the semi.  What if I had stayed and gotten high and had a beer with the guys?  If only I could do it over again. But, instead I’m haunted by my past.

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