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We were in shock, disbelieving what our ears had told us and yet knowing we had all heard something terrible. It had been a delicious Colorado mountain day in early June. One of those sun-soaked summer days that pulls the fragrance from the pines and scatters the aroma through the air. Jim and I had discovered this little campground years ago and were glad to share it with my sisters and their families. Like usual, we were the only people in the place.
The summer was shaping up dry and there was already a fire ban in this particular area. We missed the evening campfire because the temperature had dropped dramatically the moment the sun went down. But we weren’t ready to give up the day yet so Kim put the twins to bed and the rest of us huddled in the dark bundled in blankets under a star scattered sky.
You’ve heard the sound before, maybe not in real life but definitely in the movies or on television. Speeding car, out of control, sudden ear-splitting sound of screeching brakes, tires leaving tread on the road. But the car doesn’t stop. And then the screeching stops as the car leaves the ground and rolls at least twice. In the movies you hear the sound of impact when car meets another car or a tree in a crushing sound of pulverized metal and broken glass. We are all standing now, waiting for the sound of impact. But there is none. In the darkness of this mountain night there is silence until we all start to scramble in the direction of the sound. I lag behind for a moment to cry out to God for the lives of the people in the car.
Our eyes are adjusted to the dark and our familiarity with this place helps us pinpoint what looks like a huge cloud of dust on the highway that passes a mile from the campground. Jim and I throw blankets and flashlights in the truck and race for the road. We’re praying aloud now, asking for God’s mercy for the unknown passengers of the car and for courage and wisdom for ourselves. It takes a couple of slow passes before we see where the car has landed. Jim aims the headlights as close to the scene as he can and we scramble to the bottom of the hill. We can barely make out shadowy figures through the cloud of dust. “WE”RE OKAY!!” they start to shout. We are still making our way across the little creek and the marshy ground and they are screaming now, “There are three of us and WE”RE OKAY!!!” Can you help us?”
When we get close enough to really see, the flashlight plays across three terrified young men. The car is battered from the roll, sitting at the bottom of a steep bank and on its wheels. Jim starts asking questions and they all start to talk at once. All heads turn when they see me step out of the darkness and I ask, “What happened?” The driver, 17 years old, turns to the closest “Mama” he can find and falls weeping like a child into my embrace. I hold him until he stops shaking.
We hear the whole story from the kid who rides with us into the nearest town to call the State Patrol. Inexperienced driver, winding mountain road, too much speed, too much beer and the next thing they know they are hurtling off the road. By the time we return to the scene the State Patrol officers are already there. A patrolman thanks us for our help and then tells us about another young driver who had made the same mistakes the year before and died there in the trees.
But I’ve saved the best part of the story. In the bright sunlight of morning we walk back out to the ridge where we had stood the night before. Daylight reveals a soft patch of dirt between a stand of huge pines and a concrete bridge abutment. The car had landed only feet from the broken snow fence where the young man had died the year before. We never heard an impact because God had given these three foolish young men the ONLY soft place to land.