Taking car wreck photos can slow you down
Willis Webb

What is it about us when we’re teens and young adults that we tend to be a little carefree with the privilege of driving a vehicle?

Oh, young folks’ driving has improved greatly since “my day” but, unfortunately, a high percentage of traffic accidents and resulting deaths still involve young people.

Actually, I probably have no right to be here. I survived some pretty thoughtless driving as a young person, including two head-on collisions.

I no doubt subscribed, at least unconsciously, to the unspoken maxim that we were “invincible” and/or “bulletproof.”

Since both of my accidents occurred in the summer of my 18th year, six weeks apart, my father considered suspension of all driving privileges to be quite appropriate even though law enforcement officers in both cases found the other drivers to be “at fault.”

In addition to surviving those two devastating car wrecks, I spent a 50-year-plus career in small town newspapering and covered an incalculable number of deadly traffic accidents. I have no recollection of my first “head-on,” since I was unconscious for several hours following the accident but I do remember the second.

The car I was driv ing was struck by an 18-wheeler on a highway in the edge of my hometown. I managed to scurry out the passenger side of my car in time to see my left front wheel rolling down the road as if it was pursuing the skidding 18-wheeler.

Some in this profession claim that we become immune to disaster and tragedy.

I don’t believe that for a minute, but real life experiences punctuated by covering news that involved horrendous traffic accidents did imbue me with a significant amount of caution.

In an ongoing effort to report “all the news” over a half century, I went to the scene of countless fender-benders as well as some tragic, multi-death disasters.

Not surprisingly, none of the minor accidents stuck in my mind.

Some of the major ones remain, one in particular in the mid- 1960s. And, it had a striking after-effect on me.

Like most young newsmen in small communities, I was working late one night at the office, which was located on a major highway through the middle of town.

I saw a Texas Department of Public Safety patrol car zooming through town, sirens blaring and emergency lights flashing, so like a typical young newsman, I thought, “photo!” grabbed my camera, leaped in the car and floor-boarded it in pursuit.

At speeds approaching 100 miles per hour, we zoomed out the highway for about eight miles to the scene of a head-on collision. We beat ambulances to the scene, no small feat in those days. It seemed it only took a couple of minutes.

I parked on the side of the road and jumped out and began to take pictures of the two vehicles. At first, I didn’t notice there were four bodies in one car.

The driver of the other car was scarcely scratched and, though obviously inebriated, he was walking around talking to the DPS troopers.

One of the troopers approached me and said they didn’t have a camera and would I please give them prints of all my shots and would I please shoot the skid marks. Of course.

Finally, I noticed the bodies in one car. It was mind-numbing. I took a couple more photos and told the troopers to stop by in the morning and I’d have prints.

Then I crawled into my car and headed back to town, a “couple of minutes” away, right? It seemed, as opposed to the trip out to the scene, to be taking forever to get to the office.

Finally, I looked down at my speedometer and I was doing 45 miles per hour. I hope no one ever has to see four bodies in a wrecked auto to influence them to drive more cautiously.

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2010-12-30 digital edition

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