What happened at Nebraska Mile Marker 348

All of the names in the story below have been changed. But the story itself is true.


Westbound on Interstate 80 in central Nebraska. Approaching the scene of the accident.

Westbound on Interstate 80 in central Nebraska. Approaching the scene of the accident.

It was just after sunset when the young man announced that they had missed their exit and needed to turn around. He was driving the car eastward on Interstate 80 in central Nebraska. The problem was that the next exit was several miles ahead and they were already late. So to save time he told his young wife in the backseat of their little hatchback that he would find a place to make a quick turn back into the just-setting Midwestern sun. Looking quickly at the sleeping baby in the rear-facing car seat next to him, he found a place to turn through the grassy meridian and began to slow.

“1-2-3-4-5. Breathe.” Janet said to herself quickly as she breathed into the baby’s nose and mouth. She had been repeating this cadence out loud and to herself for over fifteen minutes. Littered around her were the shattered remains of two cars, four passengers and their possessions. A few feet away lay the overturned car seat.

“1-2-3-4-5. Breathe.”

“What the fuck is going on?” a man was screaming nearby. He had been doing so while wandering around from body to body ever since she and her husband had arrived on the scene of the accident. “Would somebody please tell me what the fuck happened?” Janet was to learn later that night that he was the driver of the crumpled hatchback and father of the baby boy upon which she had been administering CPR. His name was Ben. His baby’s name was Joshua.

“1-2-3-4-5. Breathe.”

Behind Janet the county police officer was treating Joshua’s mother for shock. She had multiple injuries and was covered in blood. The officer had been performing CPR on Joshua when Janet and her husband arrived only a minute after he did. The ambulances were on the way from the small east-central Nebraska town of York, but it would be a few more minutes before they arrived.

“1-2-3-4-5. Breathe.”

Ben maneuvered through the center meridian on the small dirt bypass road used by county and state authorities for turning around on the interstate. It was not to be used by pedestrian traffic however due to the speed with which oncoming cars would approach. He looked eastward to his right and seeing nothing except a few headlights far off in the distance had made the turn onto the far left shoulder of the westbound lanes. He didn’t want to merge right until his speed had approached 60. It was the last thing he would remember until the shock of the accident abated.

“1-2-3-4-5. Breathe.”

Janet had checked for a pulse and couldn’t be sure if she felt something faint or not. The babe’s half-closed eyelids showed pupils that were dilated and unresponsive. She refused to give up or stop until the ambulance arrived. Her own first-born was in the car on the eastbound lane’s shoulder in his car seat while her husband directed traffic around theirs and other responder’s cars with his large flashlight. The adrenaline was in high gear and she would not feel the ache in her knees or lower back until home in bed hours later. Again she leaned over Joshua.

“1-2-3-4-5. Breathe.”

The impact must have been deafening. The woman was driving westbound in the left lane of the interstate on her way home. Although the sun had set and twilight was growing darker, she still had not turned on her lights while driving towards the softening orange-purple on the horizon. In her fifties, with her headlights turned off, she began to veer off towards and onto the left shoulder of the highway. She never saw the small hatchback that she was about to hit.

“1-2-3-4-5. Breathe.”

“Would somebody. Please. Tell me. What the fuck happened? I don’t understand! I don’t understand!” From his vantage point above the wreckage below him in the meridian Alan could see and hear the wails coming from Ben as he stumbled around the scene. Keeping one eye on the traffic and another on his wife applying CPR, he had made a quick mental survey of the carnage. Two crumpled cars sat across the median. The smaller hatchback’s rear end was crushed and the windshield was gone. Behind it with its front crumpled back like an accordion sat the four-door sedan.

Working in the middle of the carnage on the still, lifeless form was Janet. Alan surmised it to be an infant due to the car seat nearby Janet, as well as the blue blanket on the grass. Behind Janet to the west was the sheriff’s deputy, kneeling over a woman who looked to be in bad shape. She did show movement occasionally. The officer had parked his car on the westernmost portion of the scene and shone his headlights east for light. On the opposite, eastern boundary of this drama was a body that had not moved since their arrival, uncovered. Alan couldn’t tell if it was a man or a woman from the distance and due to it resting at the edge of the darkness. He could only see that a body was lying there amongst the tall grass and weeds. He learned later that the sheriff had found no signs of life when he first arrived and realized the extent of the trauma before him. All the while the younger man, the only one upright in the grass-covered area, continued to stumble around and scream constantly in confusion.

“1-2-3-4-5. Breathe.”

Upon impact Joshua’s car seat had been launched like a missile through the hatchback’s windshield. Whether or not the seat belt had been in use I never found out. I say “I” dear reader, because for this tale I have chosen that name for myself. For approximately twenty minutes I watched Janet calmly and consistently administer CPR to baby Joshua. I watched her continue until the ambulance EMTs arrived and assessed the scene. Once ready, they relieved her from her work. While Janet had to stay for another twenty minutes to give her statements to the arriving police officials, I continued to watch my son, himself a child of fourteen months, sleeping in his car seat in the backseat of our car. He slept under a blue blanket very much like the one lying in the grassy weeds next to Joshua’s as yet unmoving body.

Finally, Janet was free to go. I had not spoke to her since we arrived on the scene of the accident a few minutes after it happened. The only assistance that arrived was the lone officer and upon seeing the situation Janet had directed me to stop. A physical therapist trained in CPR who helped design and establish the cardiac rehab program at her hospital, she recognized instantly that she was needed. I pulled off as far to the right shoulder as I could and stayed with our car. I left only to direct traffic with a trucker who had pulled his rig over to help force traffic to slow. Until his flares were lit all we had was my flashlight. Our son slept through it all.

We drove the rest of the trip home in silence, my wife staring ahead and coming down from the adrenal rush. Ninety minutes later, when in bed, the enormity of it all hit her. I won’t speak of this here.

A few days later she contacted a nurse she knows at the hospital where they took the victims of the accident. The driver of the car that had hit the hatchback was in fact pronounced dead at the scene. Alcohol was allegedly suspected as a contributing factor though we never knew that for certain. The parents of Joshua were recovering. She would have a long road ahead physically. Ben had escaped with minor injuries. The mental scars will remain for a lifetime.

When the EMTs relieved Janet they had found a weak pulse on Joshua. Immediately he was loaded into the ambulance and it sped off as there was a chance for him to survive. Twice on the trip to the hospital he had to be revived. He arrived at the hospital in the same condition but died very shortly after.

Later my wife told me that there was no visible signs of trauma on little Joshua. The six-month old boy “looked like angel…a sleeping angel” is what she told me. Only a very small drop of blood on his forehead was present, and she wasn’t even sure that it was his or his father’s.

We pass by the scene of this accident several times each year on the drive to visit Janet’s family. We never speak of it, but after watching this powerful PSA about texting while driving (you must sign in to verify your age in order to view it as it is graphic) it was brought back to mind. Particularly because of a 2-3 second scene involving a baby.

I will preach no sermon. I will not tell you what to do. Texting was not the cause of this particular accident that claimed two lives and scarred at least two others.

Instead I’ll say this: know your first aid. Get certified in CPR. Period.

Be prepared. It’s not just a motto for Boy Scouts. It’s for all of us.

*Disclaimer: I have also seen first aid courses that recommend 2 quick breaths followed by 30 compressions before another breath is given. Even while googling infant CPR I discovered both methods being taught. Check with your doctor, nurse or a person you know to be certified to be sure. And then get certified yourself.

©2009, 2014 Jeff Walker. All Rights Reserved.


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