Blind Curve


    The curve on Hagar Drive at UC Santa Cruz (UCSC) is graceful and easy to take at 10 miles over its posted speed. I walked it, flew down it on my bike, and drove it hundreds of times. Like many graduates I lingered in Santa Cruz for years, reluctant to leave the redwoods and oaks. Early one morning in September of 2005 I ran through the Upper Campus trails, I remember they were newly adorned with the scent of wet manzanita blossoms mixed with primordial duff.
    School was in session, the students were struggling to get to class despite a city bus strike that left many stranded. Walking to class was only an option for students living on campus – even then the trek from one building to another could be miles. UCSC is laid out more like a combination of a thousand acre ranch mixed with a mountain retreat than a college. Roads are sparse, hiking trails abound.
    Still sweaty from my run I was driving against the commute, passing the bleary eyed students going the other way. Many were gripping the wheel and driving hard – late for class and trying to wake up. I’m sure most of them had no idea where they were going, trained to navigate by bus stop, packed into a single lane and sure they’d never find parking.
    I was driving downhill, coming up to the curve when I saw a small puff of smoke pop up over the crest of the hill. Its a blind curve, if the road were a little steeper I would have seen the two cars hit head on, each doing at least 40 mph. The crash was silent with my window up and music on. It looked innocuous with a cartoonish cloud of glass, paint and dirt popping up on the horizon. I knew what had happened before I rounded the turn, I’d been expecting to read about it for years: at least one car swearved out of its lane coming around the blind curve. The only question was how bad the wreck was going to be.
    It was bad. No way to tell which car had been driving up and which was down. Only two cars were involved, one with two girls the other with two boys. Both cars were spun, one completely off the road. I pulled over to the side and hopped out with another motorist.
    “I’m an EMT” he puffed as we met up at the first car. The passenger side door was crushed, while he stopped there I looked to the second car. The two girls were still sitting up in the front seat and conscious. As I approached they motioned to me that they were OK. Obviously completely freaked out but conscious, alert and not seriously injured.
    The boys were not OK. I was confused at first, I thought the driver had been ejected because nobody was behind the wheel. He and his seat had been blown into the back perhaps taking the full force of the impact. He was still alive, moving almost imperceptibly as if he was trying to wake up and explain to someone what had happened.
    His passenger was out cold and bleeding from the head, slumped forward. I started talking to him as the EMT went to see if he could do anything for the driver. A few seconds ticked by and he started to raise his head in response to my conversation. The EMT magically reappeared and gently tugged his hair with fingertips as he attempted to raise his own head.
    A passing towtruck, overloaded with work that morning pulled up. I motioned for him to call it in, I didn’t have my cell and the EMT was too busy. Eventually the tow driver came up to the car and I heard the sound of sirens approaching. The local firehouse was closeby, already geared up and on its way. I’d likely just be in the way – time to go.
    Though the boys car was filled with the presence of death I thought they both might survive. They were both evacuated by chopper and one died shortly after that.
    I saw a story about it in the local paper, they didn’t even mention that the bus strike and resulting traffic chaos may have contributed to the accident. I followed up with the reporter and got an annoyed “there was no proof the strike had caused or contributed to the accident.” No proof but common sense perhaps.
    College kids die doing stupid things all the time. It felt to me like nobody even batted an eye at this one. What did I expect? There were families to mourn and care for them, all the emergency workers performed their duties with excellence. The headline read “Two-car accident claims the life of a UCSC student.”
    The deceased was a student named Kenton, planning to make a career in photography. He was the passenger I’d spoken to, only able to raise his head slightly. I don’t know why I felt like I had to write about this today. This happened years ago. Of course the images are imprinted on my mind for the rest of my life. The puff smoke, the driver in the back seat, Kenton trying to raise his head.
    Maybe Kenton just needed a little acknowledgment before finally moving on completely. I wonder how he would have photographed the scene. The carnage was surrounded by so much beauty it was inescapable.


  • Anonymous
    May 12, 2009 - 7:31 pm · Reply

    Thanks Tim. I’m always up for all stories. I like your recognition of Kenton and his presence in our lives. –Stephen M

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