Spinout – A Driving Lesson Learned the Hard Way

The date was March 28, 1999. My friend Mike and I were in Nanaimo for a boarding trip. It was to be our first rides on our new boards. We were heading to Mt. Washington. We were stoked to get on the mountain to try out our new gear. Washington has had a record breaking year for snowfall. We departed Nanaimo around 7:15. We were both in good spirits, and desperately wanted to be on the mountain.

The weather was being kind of weird on us. It was raining off and on. Then there was snow mixed with the rain. The roads were completely clear of any slush, so we didn’t slow any. The rain picked up a little. As we approached a slower vehicle, Mike turned to me and asked if I thought the left lane was clear. I looked over, and the left lane was as clear as our own. No slush, just wetness.

I told him I thought it looked clear, and he started to make the lane change. There was slush between the lanes, but it was a very thin layer. Less than a quarter inch I would say. It was more than enough. The back end wobbled a little, and the first shot of adrenaline was pumped. Mike, yelped I think, and corrected for it. The rear end snapped back over to the left side, and I knew we were in trouble.

Mike tried to correct for this second swing out, but it was too much. The rear tires grabbed again, and the rear end swang out to the right. Just as I thought that the Jeep was going to straighten out again, it started to swap ends. I could hear Mike saying ‘Holy Fuck, Holy Fuck’ over and over again. I looked over at Mike, just as he looked over at me. Here we were hurtlin along the highway, at close to 100 km/h, backwards! The front end came around again, and we completed our first 360. The back end continued around another 135 degrees (approximately), and that was when we hit the ditch on the left hand side of the road.

At this point, I realized that this situation felt like a bad dream. It didn’t really seem like this was happening. It wasn’t some out of body experience, but it certainly was an interesting sensory experience.

As we went into the ditch, somewhere in the neighbourhood of 90 km/h, we continued spinning. I had this strange sense that we would be all right. Somehow I just knew we would not be hurt. My biggest fear was that the Jeep would flip, or rollover. Continuing its spin through the ditch, I remember hearing rocks and dirt hitting the side of my door. I was convinced as we were sideways that we would flip, but the suspension soaked the bumps up pretty well. We finished a second 360, and rotated another 90+ degrees.

It was at this point that I saw a large mileage marker headed straight for us, or rather us straight for it. It was the kind with thick metal legs that looked rather solid. We had slowed enough that when we hit it, the Jeep took all the impact force within the body. We hit with the rear corner on the passenger side. What I heard from the impact was a large crack along with a deep thud.

After we came to a stop, there was a stunned sort of silence. Mike and I checked to make sure each other was unhurt, then we got out of the vehicle. We were both shaken pretty hard. That was the first major accident I had been in. Apparently the same could be said for Mike. He was starting to freak out a little, so I did my best to calm him. I really had no clue what I was supposed to do in that situation. It was completely new to me. The whole thing probably took about 5 seconds, but while it was happening, it truly felt like slow motion. I have felt that sensation before, and it is very disconcerting when you aren’t expecting it.

Mike grabbed the cell phone from the glove compartment, and began trying to call someone to get some help out to us. I think he called 411, but the reception was poor, and he kept having to repeat himself. As he was doing this several cars drove by, gawking at what happened to us. One guy did stop by to check on us, and to see if we needed to use his phone. We talked with him for a few mintues, and assured him we were alright. A few minutes later he left since there really wasn’t anything he could do.

The next person on the scene happened to be a Police Officer. He was pretty nice. He made sure we were OK, and called a tow truck for us. He wrote out the accident report, got the details from Mike, and waited with us until the tow truck arrived. We talked with him for a bit. He pointed out to us how lucky we were, something we already knew. He told us that there were five other accidents in the previous half hour. One involved a family flipping their SUV. Apparently one child was slightly injured. While the officer was talking to Mike, I grabbed the cell phone, and called my mom to let her know what happened. She was shocked I could tell. I kept reiterating the fact that we were in fact alright.

We sort of inspected the Jeep while we were waiting for the tow truck. The rear quarter panel on the passenger side was mangled, and the rear window shattered. Neither of us remembered hearing that happen. The rear doors, while closed, had about a two inch gap at the top of them due to the mangled body. The rear bumper was mangled beyond belief. The passenger side front wheel was almost pulled off the rim, and the driver side rear wheel was flattened mess attached to a broken rim.

The tow truck arrived, and the operator got to work. He pulled the Jeep towards the road, and as he was doing so, we noticed the rear axle was broken. This was pretty evident, since the wheel was definitely not pointing straight. More examiniation of the wheel well produced a noticable fold in the frame. I guess from where we hit on the passenger side, enough force was put on the frame to cause it to fold over on itself.

While the tow truck dude was hooking the Jeep up, I kept pacing back and forth over the scene. I noticed a large rock that was out of place, so I walked up the ditch a ways. This rock was about three feet in diameter. We had dislodged this half buried boulder, and pushed/carried/moved it about ten feet along the ditch. It was soon after that I saw a tow truck headed south towing a mangled Pathfinder. It was the vehicle of the family I mentioned earlier. The driverside looked unscathed, but the windshield was smashed, and the roof was cumpled. I couldn’t see the passenger side.

From there the tow truck took the Jeep to its impound lot. We snagged everything we could from that vehicle, and the tow truck operator drove us into Qualicum, where I called my mom to come pick us up. She drove us to the bus station in Nanaimo, and from there we caught a bus to Victoria. On the bus I kept reliving the experience over and over. I kept thinking about all the things we could have done differently to prevent this accident. There are a million different little things. What if we left at 7 instead of 7:15? What if we were travelling slower? What if we were travelling faster? What if I had said to Mike not to change lanes? ‘What if’ became my favorite question on that bus ride. I knew that this examining of what happened would eat me up, so I tried to stop, but I just couldn’t. My mind naturally wanted to research what heppened with different endings.

I came to one conclusion about that big rock. I think we caught it with the trailing wheel, as we were sliding sideways through the ditch. The broken rim had a chunk of metal pushed to the outside of the vehicle. I think that rock was what broke the rim and bent it out.

I got back to my home in Vic around 4. I laid on the couch, and flicked on the TV. I channel surfed for a couple hours, all the while my brain was reliving that experience over and over again. Sometime that evening it really hit me what had happened. I was in a serious car accident, and I walked away completely unhurt. I truly believe that if we had flipped, things would have been a whole lot different.

I went to work on Monday, my mind in a weird sort of haze. I sat at my computer, and rally didn’t get too much done in the morning. Then I had the idea to get this out, to put it down somewhere to remind me of how lucky we were. As I started typing, I was reliving the whole experience over and over again. I can still remember all the sensations running through me while it was happening. It is almost some form of out of body experience. I wanted to do this as much to remind me as to warn others. I wouldn’t wish this experience on anyone else at all. It is not something I would ever want to go through ever again. I realized a weird thing as I was typing this up. The CD we were listening to at the time of the accident was ‘My Own Prison’ by Creed. I think track number 6 was playing, but some of the lyrics to track 3 go as follows:

Should have been dead
On a Sunday morning
Banging my head
No time for mourning
Ain’t got no time

These aren’t terribly profound lyrics or anything, but damn that is freaky. The day this happened was a Sunday, in the morning.

So whatever you do, if there is any form of bad weather, slow down! I don’t care if you are driving a tiny little compact car, or a big-ass Dodge Ram, the lesson to be learned by everyone is to slow down. We were driving a pretty big vehicle ( a Jeep Grand Cherokee ), and less that a quarter inch of slush caused us to spin out.

We came out extremely lucky. You may not. Please remember this.

Some pics of the Jeep are here.