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View Full Version : traffic accident procedure - a little out of the ordinary?



edutton
02-08-2016, 01:14 AM
I've done some searching online and in this forum archive and haven't yet found an answer to my precise question, so I'm hoping someone can help me out...

The scenario: Dad is driving his kids (ages 14, 3 and 1) home when he comes on the scene of an accident where his wife was just killed. It's a small enough city that one of the officers on scene recognizes him, and has him step out to confirm it's his wife's car in the ditch. Dad is now distraught and unable to drive the kids home.

First, is this a plausible way for that scenario to play out? And if so, what would the police be likeliest to do about the car full of kids?

Many thanks!

jclarkdawe
02-08-2016, 01:38 AM
The idea is good, but the details are wrong.

If she's called dead at the scene, or immediately upon arrival at the hospital, the car is going to be a mess. It's probably been cut to pieces getting her out. It's awfully hard having a fatal vehicle that isn't blatantly a fatal vehicle. Unless he's incredibly tough, he's going to have nightmares seeing the car.

Identification of her and the vehicle would be done by the registration and her license. (Her purse is very likely to be in the car. Once you have her transported or declared dead at the scene, we'd search for the purse.) In addition, a fatal is viewed by the police as the same thing as a crime scene. You don't want anybody messing things up.

Husband would probably be told at the scene if her body is at the scene. More likely than not, he's not going to get to see the car or his wife. As far as his wife is concerned, it's better at the morgue, where they can hide some of the trauma. If she's been transported to the morgue, he's going to probably be sent there or the hospital. They have people who can help him deal with this.

I was on the fire/rescue department as a volunteer for a while. We had a motor vehicle of car into tree. Upon arrival, we identified the driver as a local kid, who several people knew. We called it at the scene, after discussion with medical control. We kept the body in the car for about an hour and a half while the police took pictures and some other stuff. Unfortunately, as we were extricating the body, dad showed up. One of his buddies (not on fire or police) had seen the wreck and identified the car and called dad. Before dad got close enough to see anything, two of his buddies from the fire department took him into the back of the ambulance and explained what had happened.

After extrication, the body was transported to the hospital, which is where our morgue is located. The medical examiner traveled with the body, and one of the fire fighters took dad to the hospital, where he met his wife and informed her, and then they were allowed into the morgue for an exceeding limited viewing of their son.

Fire departments and rescues are unfortunately used to dealing with this. We do whatever the circumstances require. I'd arrange for someone to keep dad company, and arrange for local clergy to help dad through the process of telling the kids. I'd also detail someone to drive the kids home.

All emergency responders have a lot of flexibility on dealing with problems like this.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

edutton
02-08-2016, 02:39 AM
The idea is good, but the details are wrong.

I'm not surprised. :)


Husband would probably be told at the scene if her body is at the scene. More likely than not, he's not going to get to see the car or his wife.
Cool, that's a one-line fix.


As far as his wife is concerned, it's better at the morgue, where they can hide some of the trauma. If she's been transported to the morgue, he's going to probably be sent there or the hospital.
I think the body is still at the scene. Sounds like in that case they'd detail someone to sit with him until they're ready to transport.



I'd arrange for someone to keep dad company, and arrange for local clergy to help dad through the process of telling the kids. I'd also detail someone to drive the kids home.

Fortunately this is a flashback, so I don't have to do it all... but I do need to move the dramatic family group-hug from the hospital to home later. This is exactly what I needed, thanks so much!

jclarkdawe
02-08-2016, 03:49 AM
Remember that viewing bodies, especially trauma bodies, is an individual thing. I'm pretty much indifferent to bodies, and have no problems in accepting the doctor's word that someone is dead. On the other hand, a lot of people need to see the dead body to accept death.

However, some bodies shouldn't be viewed by anyone. I've had a medical examiner lose her lunch. Picking up body parts can be quite the experience. A family member should probably never view body parts. The military has closed coffins for a good reason.

If you want a body the guy can view at the scene, have the engine go into the passenger compartment, and crush/amputated injury to the lower body. That can leave the upper torso/head in reasonable shape.

A fatal accident is always covered with a tarp as soon as the decision on death has been made. The tarps can be arranged so that most of the car and the body can't be viewed.

There's a lot of variation on what happens, so you can be pretty imaginative.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

edutton
02-08-2016, 04:08 AM
This is what I wound up with... it's a dream/flashback sequence from the perspective of the 16yo narrator (14 at the time of the accident). If anything still sticks out as a procedural problem, please let me know!


I had The Dream again that night, waking with tears running down my face and the old, suffocating weight on my chest. The Dream might start in different places and times, but always ended the same way.

Iím sitting in the passenger seat of the van, idly watching the reflection of flashing red and blue lights on wet pavement and broken glass as we wait for the emergency vehicles to finish and move so we can get home. Then the officer knocks on the driverís door and motions for Dad to get out. All I hear is, ďAre you David Sanders?Ē before the door closes. I donít know what they want with him, but as they walk into the confusion of lights Iím confident it will be sorted out quickly. Then Dad stops walking. Itís still raining, but I roll down the window enough to try and hear whatís going on. I donít get words, but thereís no mistaking the sound of my father crying as the officer guides him to sit on the back step of an ambulance. I want to run to him, to find out whatís happened and get him to tell me everythingís all right, but I canít leave Millie and baby Owen. I canít stand to hear Dad crying anymore, so I roll up the window again and all outside sound is cut off. Iím sitting in a big bubble with two sleeping children, and I refuse to understand whatís going on but Iím sure now that everything is not all right and may never be again. I close my eyes, to shut out sight as well as sound.

On good nights, it ended there. On bad ones, it went on. This was not a good night.

I donít open my eyes until the car door opens and my bubble pops. Most of the flashing lights are gone now, and the rain has stopped. A female officer is standing in the open door. She says something about Mom and a drunk driver and taking us home. Iím scared now, but the sound of her voice has woken Owen and I have to focus on that. I want to unbuckle and rock him but the officer says we need to go, so I wipe off the pacifier he dropped, then tickle and coo at him until he stops crying and falls back asleep. Millie doesnít wake up through this, and Iím grateful. When we get home I have to wake Millie to walk inside, so I can carry the baby. The officer frightens her. Once the door is closed the officer asks who she can call, and I tell her Uncle Jack. We find the number and she stays with us until Jack and Lillian arrive. Lillian hugs me with tears in her eyes and immediately takes charge of Owen while the officer takes Uncle Jack into the kitchen. Millie has fallen back asleep on the couch; I pick her up to carry her to bed, but she wakes up. When she sees Lillian she asks where Dad is, and when I say heís not here she starts crying and wonít stop. I hold her and let her cry herself back to sleep on my shoulder while I slowly go numb from the inside out.

Waking up ďin the bubbleĒ wasnít too bad, and I was usually able to go back to sleep fairly easily. On the nights when I didnít wake up until the end, I didnít dare try ó not after the first time, when I dreamed I was in the car with her, trapped and staring at her dead face as we slowly sank into the earth.

jclarkdawe
02-08-2016, 07:32 AM
Details --

1. You don't sit someone on the step to the ambulance in the rain. You go inside.

2. There would be orange lights from the wrecker and possibly from highway trucks.

3. Truck engines would be rumbling and radios blaring. It will have a lot of background noises.

4. If he/she can hear the crying, he/she could hear at least some of the words.

5. What's dad body language indicate when they tell him? Remember that when you tell somebody, it's a process. You don't say, "Your wife is dead." Instead you start out with, "There's been an accident." Then you add, "Your wife was involved." Then you up it a bit more, "The other driver was drunk." Then throw in, "It was serious." and maybe "It was bad." By this point, the husband knows where you're going, although hoping he's wrong. A lot of times the person will ask. What you need to do is show dad going through this process.

6. I don't know how old the character is.

7. Dad is going to want to tell his children. The kids are now his major priority.

8. While dad is being told in the ambulance, somebody will be keeping track of the kids. This might not be noticed by the kid.

9. I find it unlikely the kid would stay in the car when he sees dad in distress.

10. The aunt and uncle would be contacted before the kids arrived at the house, if dad isn't going to go with the kids. Even before cell phones, emergency vehicles had radios and a dispatcher. You call the dispatcher and he would call the aunt and uncle and explain the situation and what they need to do.

I'd up this. The kid is suffering from PTSD, and really needs something to push him/her further. For example, maybe the kid sees mom's car leaving on a flatbed, the car mostly covered with a tarp, with a police cruiser escorting. Or he sees mom's body, in a body bag, being loaded into a hearse. If the other driver was drunk, the car is evidence for the homicide case, presuming the drunk survived. Her car would go to a police lot for further analysis.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

edutton
02-08-2016, 08:38 AM
Regarding #7, I agree - but I took from what you wrote earlier that he might not be given the option. I must have misread.

This is great stuff, and much appreciated!

jclarkdawe
02-08-2016, 06:05 PM
I'm sorry for being confusing. Definitely dad is the best person to tell the kids.

However, you want the PTSD. You want the horror. You want this going wrong. And the worse you can probably make this, the better.

I've been on the receiving end as well as the giving end of this. Both of my parents expected deaths were reported to me over the phone and I had the dubious privilege of telling the rest of my family. I've also seen this go very wrong.

So let me suggest some easy changes to make this really suck for your character.

When dad is told, he grabs his chest and collapses on the ground. Now we have a new emergency, we're wondering what dad was told, and we're thinking dad is the one who is going to die here. Dad gets transported to the hospital with a suspected heart attack, but after a bunch of testing, the doctors decide it was just stress and dad is released. (This happens.)

Kid tries to get out of the car, and a cop blocks him. But the cop won't tell the kid what's wrong. Then another cop shows up to drive the kids home. But she won't tell the kids what happened, just that her Chief told her to drive them hold. The cop gets the aunt and uncle on the phone and coming over, then has a whispered conversation in the kitchen.

But no one will tell the kids what's going on. Notice that this results in your reader not knowing either.

If you talk to people about the death of someone close to them, the ones who were kids at the time and no one would tell them what was going on suffer the most. You'll hear the pain this caused them even into senior citizen status. These are the people who tend not to handle death very well forever after. And this fuels an especially ugly nightmare as the kid dreams about being trapped in the car with his/her mother, and asking her what's going on, and her not telling him.

There's a fine line with telling people about the death of a loved one. You have to deal with process time, which varies widely. But I've had a wife we ended up transporting to the hospital after she discovered her husband dead in the kitchen to gramps dying in a chair in the living room from old age. We got there, gramps is in the chair, and the kids are playing on the floor. Everybody was sad that gramps was dead, but glad he wasn't suffering any more. What a positive and life affirming experience for everyone. Those kids never had a bad dream about gramps and his death rattle (which one of the kids swears he heard) was nothing more than a part of the experience.

Make me have a nightmare.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

edutton
02-08-2016, 06:27 PM
Heh - I originally did have Dad fall to his knees (crying, in the rain...) but decided I'd crossed the line into melodrama. I may re-rethink that.

jclarkdawe
02-08-2016, 06:54 PM
Death is melodramatic.

Most people have been told of the death of a loved one from a medical condition. Trauma deaths are incredibly different. The surprise is nearly always complete and total, and there's often someone to blame. And in modern society, death is not viewed as a part of life as it was in the past.

Trauma death of your significant other when you have young kids is the hardest of all, in my opinion. Not only are you losing the person who is probably your best friend, you're losing a significant portion of the family's income, and you just became a single parent. Collapsing isn't surprising. Personally, this is something you tell the person to sit before you tell them.

Go for the melodrama. You're readers will tell you you went over the top. But the real world produces everything from a polite, "Thank you," to a complete meltdown.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

edutton
02-12-2016, 08:08 AM
Second draft:


I had The Dream again that night, waking with tears running down my face and the old, suffocating weight in my chest. The Dream might start in different places and times, but always ended the same way.

Iím sitting in the passenger seat of the van, idly watching the reflection of flashing red and blue and orange lights on wet pavement and broken glass as we wait for the emergency vehicles to finish and move so we can get home. An officer knocks on the driverís door and motions for Dad to get out. All I hear is, ďAre you David Sanders?Ē before the door closes. I donít know what they want with him, but as they walk into the confusion of lights Iím confident it will be sorted out quickly. Then Dad stops walking. I roll down the window enough to try and hear whatís going on, but thereís too much noise of rain and engines and men shouting. I roll the window back up until all the sound is cut off. I watch as the officer guides him to sit in the back of an ambulance, like he canít move on his own. They talk for a while and then Dad slides to his knees on the floor of the ambulance, bent over and rocking and obviously sobbing. I throw open the door to run to him, to find out what happened and make him tell me everythingís all right, but another officer stops me and then I remember I canít leave Millie and the baby. I ask whatís wrong but he wonít tell me. Iím sitting in a big bubble with two sleeping children, and I refuse to understand whatís going on but Iím sure now that everything is not all right and may never be again. I close my eyes tight, to shut out sight as well as sound.

On good nights, it ended there. On bad ones, it went on. This was not a good night.

I donít open my eyes until the car door opens and my bubble pops. Most of the flashing lights are gone now, and the rain has stopped. A female officer is standing in the open door. Dad is still in the back of the ambulance, but at least heís sitting up again. The officer says something about taking us home. Iím really scared now, and try to insist on staying as long as Dad is here, but the sound of her voice has woken Owen and I have to focus on that. I want to unbuckle and rock him but the officer says we need to go, so I wipe off the pacifier he dropped, then tickle and coo at him until he stops crying. Millie doesnít wake up through this, and Iím grateful. The officer gets behind the wheel. I protest, but she just drives on. Dad looks up as we pass, but his eyes are hollow and I don't think he sees us. When we get home Uncle Jack and Lillian are there, and I can no longer pretend I donít know Mom is dead. Lillian hugs me with tears in her eyes and then takes charge of Owen while the officer takes Uncle Jack into the kitchen. I pick Millie up to carry her to bed; she wakes and asks where Daddy is. I can tell she knows something is wrong; when I say heís not here she starts crying and wonít stop. I hold her and let her cry herself back to sleep on my shoulder, while I slowly go numb. I put Millie to bed, then just sit in a chair and wait. I carefully don't think about anything. When they finally bring Dad home he looks almost dead himself. We cling to each other and cry for a long, long time, but we canít bring ourselves to say the words. I determine never to think them again, and lock them away in a hidden corner of my mind where they canít hurt me. When I go to bed, I wrap the numbness around me until I feel almost safe.

Waking up ďin the bubbleĒ wasnít too bad, and I was usually able to go back to sleep fairly easily. On the nights when I didnít wake up until the end, I didnít dare try ó not after the first time, when I dreamed I was in the car with her, trapped and staring at her dead face as we slowly sank into the river.

I looked at the clock; it read 3:47. I switched on the light and pulled a Pratchett novel from my bookcase, hoping that a quick trip to the Discworld would let me sleep.

jclarkdawe
02-16-2016, 08:06 AM
Second draft:


I had The Dream again that night, waking with tears running down my face and the old, suffocating weight in my chest. The Dream might start in different places and times, but always ended the same way.

Iím sitting in the passenger seat of the van, idly watching the reflection of flashing red and blue and orange lights on wet pavement and broken glass as we wait for the emergency vehicles to finish and move so we can get home. An officer knocks on the driverís door and motions for Dad to get out. All I hear is, ďAre you David Sanders?Ē before the door closes. I donít know what they want with him, but as they walk into the confusion of lights Iím confident it will be sorted out quickly. Then Dad stops walking. He stops walking and what? Do his shoulders slump? Does he jump for joy? There's more than just stopping here. I roll down the window enough to try and hear whatís going on, but thereís too much noise of rain and engines and men shouting. I roll the window back up until all the sound is cut off. I watch as the officer guides him to sit in the back of an ambulance, like he canít move on his own. They talk for a while and then Dad slides to his knees on the floor of the ambulance, bent over and rocking and obviously sobbing. I throw open the door to run to him, to find out what happened and make him tell me everythingís all right, but another officer stops me Does he fight with the officer? Show his drive to get to his father? and then I remember I canít leave Millie and the baby. I ask whatís wrong but he wonít tell me. Is he demanding to be told? Iím sitting in a big bubble with two sleeping children, and I refuse to understand whatís going on How can he understand what's gong on when no one is telling him? but Iím sure now that everything is not all right and may never be again. I close my eyes tight, to shut out sight as well as sound.

On good nights, it ended there. On bad ones, it went on. This was not a good night.

I donít open my eyes until the car door opens and my bubble pops. Most of the flashing lights are gone now, and the rain has stopped. A female officer is standing in the open door. Dad is still in the back of the ambulance, but at least heís sitting up again. The officer says something about taking us home. Iím really scared now, and try to insist on staying as long as Dad is here, but the sound of her voice has woken Owen and I have to focus on that. I want to unbuckle and rock him but the officer says we need to go, so I wipe off the pacifier he dropped, then tickle and coo at him until he stops crying. Millie doesnít wake up through this, and Iím grateful. The officer gets behind the wheel. I protest, but she just drives on. Dad looks up as we pass, but his eyes are hollow and I don't think he sees us. Then why does he look up? When we get home Uncle Jack and Lillian are there, and I can no longer pretend I donít know Mom is dead. When did he find out Mom was dead? Lillian hugs me with tears in her eyes and then takes charge of Owen while the officer takes Uncle Jack into the kitchen. Why is the officer going to talk with Jack? I pick Millie up to carry her to bed; she wakes and asks where Daddy is. I can tell she knows something is wrong; when I say heís not here she starts crying and wonít stop. So your character knows Mom is dead but Millie does not? I hold her and let her cry herself back to sleep on my shoulder, while I slowly go numb. I put Millie to bed, then just sit in a chair and wait. I carefully don't think about anything. When they finally bring Dad home he looks almost dead himself. We cling to each other and cry for a long, long time, but we canít bring ourselves to say the words. I determine never to think them again, and lock them away in a hidden corner of my mind where they canít hurt me. When I go to bed, I wrap the numbness around me until I feel almost safe. What happens to the aunt and uncle?

Waking up ďin the bubbleĒ wasnít too bad, and I was usually able to go back to sleep fairly easily. On the nights when I didnít wake up until the end, I didnít dare try ó not after the first time, when I dreamed I was in the car with her, trapped and staring at her dead face as we slowly sank into the river. Does he wake in a sweat? Bolt upright? Heart racing?

I looked at the clock; it read 3:47. I switched on the light and pulled a Pratchett novel from my bookcase, hoping that a quick trip to the Discworld would let me sleep.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

frimble3
02-16-2016, 09:55 AM
Iím sitting in a big bubble with two sleeping children, and I refuse to understand whatís going on How can he understand what's gong on when no one is telling him?

When we get home Uncle Jack and Lillian are there, and I can no longer pretend I donít know Mom is dead. When did he find out Mom was dead?

We cling to each other and cry for a long, long time, but we canít bring ourselves to say the words.

For me, these are part of the same thing: unconscious understanding, and refusal to accept that understanding. The character 'knows' his mother is dead, hasn't heard the words, but it's the only explanation that fits what he sees, and the sick feeling he's getting.
Also, the italicized part is the character describing a dream. In reality, he knows that his mother is dead, has been dead for some time, and how it happened, etc. That informs his dream, which is partly him remembering, and partly his mind editing those memories:

when I dreamed I was in the car with her, trapped and staring at her dead face as we slowly sank into the river.
in reality, there was no 'sinking into the river'.

So, yeah, I get that he can 'know' without being told.

Cath
02-16-2016, 03:08 PM
This isn't Share Your Work, folks.

edutton
02-16-2016, 06:02 PM
This isn't Share Your Work, folks.
Okay, I think I have what I needed from this thread and will let it die now. Jim, thanks for the excellent guidance.

jclarkdawe
02-16-2016, 06:41 PM
This isn't Share Your Work, folks.

Cath -- I realize there's a fine line here. But what I tried to address was where I had reactions based upon my experiences and avoided any comments on grammar and flow.

For example, Edutton wrote that Dad stopped walking. Having seen people in that situation too many times (one is more than enough), it's a lot more complex. Here I am assuming Dad is walking, maybe being told his wife has been in an accident, but this is when Dad sees his wife's car. Dad will probably stiffen, the muscles in his entire body going stiff. He may look around, searching either for something good or something bad. He'll probably start charging to get to the car, and will probably need a couple of people to stop him, talking to him rapidly, trying to get through with logic what is not a logical moment. Eventually Dad will realize he's not getting through, that his wife is DEAD, and there isn't one god damn thing he can do about it. At this point he'll probably slump, may come close to collapse. Meanwhile, someone probably has an arm over his shoulder, providing physical contact.

Now I realize that part of this is addressing writing issues. But more I was aiming at the fact that having seen this and having talked with people about this afterwards (advantages of a small town), this is a lot more complex than most people think. Especially as time goes on, people fill in things (see Frimble3's post).

As I said, I realize this is a close line. I also realize you probably understood what I was trying to do. But to clarify the point ...

As always, Cath, thank you for all you do with this forum.

Jim