Reflections on My Afternoon
As a Sheriff’s Chaplain
Chaplain Tom Kendall
I am sharing my personal thoughts with you about an afternoon I spent a few years ago. For some, it will provide a snapshot of what Law Enforcement Chaplains all over the country do every day. But most important, I hope and pray it will make you stop and think before you pick up your cell phone and send or respond to a text message, or even a call, whenever you are driving. This incident was not unique to me, as it repeats itself many times a day all around our country.
PLEASE NOTE: Some descriptions and the photos may be considered graphic by some so please consider this before reading beyond this point
12:00 noon. I turn on the news while I make a sandwich for lunch. I turn on the television to hear a breaking story of a possible fatal accident in Noblesville. I turn on my Police Walkie-Talkie to listen to the radio traffic.
12:38 pm. I receive a call to help out at the scene of this accident and be prepared to do the death notification. I immediately change clothes into my Sheriff’s Dept. issued Chaplains clothing, all layered up because it’s cold outside.
1:10 pm. I arrive at the scene (below). The Fire Department was still trying to extricate the young woman from the pickup truck. I’m told she was heading westbound and crossed over sharply into the path of an eastbound dump truck. You can see the point of impact and where each vehicle ended up. Imagine being in that pickup truck and being knocked that far back instantly.
1:40 pm. The firefighters finally move the broken body of a young woman in her 30’s from the pickup truck. Using their cutting tools, they had removed the roof, door and parts of a vehicle we never normally see. Finally, they were able to pull her from the mangled wreckage. Literally, it appeared that every bone in her body was broken and twisted and bent in directions that were beyond unnatural. Obviously, she died instantly on impact. I thank God for having that mercy on her.
1:45 pm – An officer hands me her driver’s license so I can get the information I need from it. I write it down, then just hold the license and pray for her. I pray she made a decision before this to have Jesus as Lord of her life. I pray for her family. Then, I give the license back to the Officer and just watch and reflect on what might have happened. She lays in that black body bag while the Fire Fighter prepares to move her. The County Coroner later confirmed every bone in her body had been broken in that accident.
I see the engine of the truck up against the driver’s seat, the dashboard peeled back to extricate he from the wreckage. Fluids from the vehicle pool alongside the road where the Fire Fighters have covered it in absorbent material. I see little scraps of paper blow out of the cab. I wonder was she writing a message. Was she texting a friend? Witnesses said it wasn’t a gradual crossing over the yellow line, but it looked like she was turning, but there was no street to turn onto. Texting is what comes to my mind and I think of my own daughters. I know we all text while driving at times, but lately, I just ignore the messages that come while I’m driving down the road. That’s because when I have tried texting in the past, I find on occasion I may make a sudden lane movement. By the Grace of God, I wasn’t there, or my wife or one of my daughters.
2:00 pm – I follow two Sheriff’s Deputies to her home to notify the family. We have her address from the driver’s license, so that is our destination.
2:30 (approximately), we park in front of her home. We go inside and introduce ourselves to her father who looks like he’s probably in his 70’s. He is in shock. Nobody wants to see the Police and a Chaplain come knocking at the door if you haven’t called then. They never bring “good news”. He said he has been watching the accident on the news all afternoon from the news helicopters and thought it looked like his truck. He said he was trying to call his daughter to make sure she was ok, but there was no answer. He said he’s had a “bad feeling” about this all afternoon.
My heart goes out to him. I can’t possibly imagine what he’s thinking or going through. I think of my family again and am grieved for this poor man who just lost his daughter. Her husband died a few years ago and his wife, the victim’s mother, died of cancer a few years ago. His son, the young lady’s brother, arrives and is shocked, too. He seems to be the “rock”, and tells us they will be able to make the calls to the rest of the family. They were waiting for her son to arrive shortly on the school bus. He has no idea what happened to his mother this day. They say they don’t need me to stay, so the two Deputies and I leave.
It’s a long, quite drive home only punctuated by the radio traffic. A lot of stuff is going on today around Hamilton County, but I have the long, drive home to think and reflect on what I’ve seen this day. I’m well trained in Critical Incident Stress Management, and know what I’m thinking is not that type of stress, but a stirring in my spirit that I must tell everyone I know, PLEASE DO NOT TEXT AND DRIVE. Talking and driving is bad enough, but all the studies show texting is considerably more dangerous than drunk driving.
The Indiana State Legislature was considering a bill at that time to ban texting and driving, and it was later passed and become law in Indiana. I’ve heard many people proclaim the State has no “right” to ban texting and driving. I think I wish they could have been with me today. That young lady had a “right” to live, too. When investigating the accident, I’m sure they will obtain her telephone records to see if she was on the phone at the time. But whether this was the cause of this particular accident or not seems irrelevant now, because the outcome is the same.
So, I decided I would write these thoughts and share them in hopes that sharing my experience that afternoon with you will make you take a few minutes and think about your family, too. Is there anything we need to say in a message that is so important that we are willing to put ourselves and our families in a body bag like that? For me, there’s no way. I’m not answering any more text messages in the car. Sorry if you have to wait. But at least I’ll be her to talk with you later.
I have since added an app to my cell phone that automatically sends a text message back to anyone texting me that I am driving and I will respond later. It automatically activates when the vehicle I’m in exceeds 10mph. I recommend it for everyone. It may help save a life, maybe yours.
Join me in pledging to ignore text messages while we drive. Feel free to share my afternoon with someone you love too. You’ll be glad you did.