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 The fateful seconds



Lessons From Everyday Life By Theodore Lewis

Bridgman, MI-- My first recollection of distracted driving was riding as a child with my parents in mid-Michigan in the late 50s, listening to a baseball game on the car radio. Jim Bunning of the Detroit Tigers was pitching his first no-hitter,: pitching a full nine-inning baseball game without allowing a hit. The car radio had only recently become available as an option and my father had one in our Ford.


As the game progressed into the 8th inning, Van Patrick, the legendary voice of the Detroit Tigers and Lions, began to talk about the possibility of a no-hitter.


By the start of the bottom of the ninth inning, the excitement at Fenway Park in Boston was building, and Van Patrick advised fans listening on car radios that they should pull their car over to the side of the road to be safe so that no one would get into an accident.


My father followed the advice, and we sat on the side of the road while Jim Bunning got the final out of the no-hitter by getting Boston's Ted Williams to fly out to right field.


Through the decades since, I can remember seeing some hilarious distracted drivers. I'll never forget passing the lady on the Beltway in Washington D.C. who was combing her hair with one hand and holding a mirror with the other. I assumed she was steering with her knees. More than once, I've seen women applying lipstick and men shaving while driving.


With the advent and proliferation of cell phones, distracted driving has become a national problem. Today, over 3,000 people are killed and about 300,000 are injured each year on the highways because of distracted drivers. 3,000 doesn't sound like that large of a number, but that is an average of about nine deaths every day.  


Statistics can be meaningless until they apply to you!


As CEO of the Seventh Day Adventist Clinic on Guam, I led a busy life. I had acquired multitasking skills. I would not travel anywhere on the highway without making and receiving calls on my cell even when I was driving. I had become an expert at driving while distracted without believing there were consequences.


That would change with one fateful April day in Guam in 2014.


My friend Michael from the clinic and I had an appointment in Adelup, the governor's complex, at 2 p.m. We were running a little late. I drove, taking my 2012 Camry. We turned left out of the clinic onto Ypao Road just a couple of minutes before 2 p.m.


As usual, I was multitasking, reviewing a document with Michael while returning a call on my cell from Dr. Pierson, the director of the Seventh Day Adventist Saipan Dental Clinic, where I was a board member.


I made my way down Ypao Road to the intersection with Marine Corps Drive, Guam's main highway, where we would turn right. We stayed on Marine Corps Drive for the 10-minute trip to Adelup.


The light was red at the intersection, but turning right on red was allowed in Guam if there was no oncoming traffic.


Dr. Pierson was busy with a patient, and so, after stopping in the right-hand turn lane while looking left and right at the intersection, I began a conversation with Ernie, the Saipan Clinic CFO, about the upcoming board meeting I would be attending in a few days.


The traffic going both ways on Marine Corps Drive was heavy and traveling quite fast, so I waited while continuing my conversation with Ernie. While the light was still red, I suddenly saw a break coming in the traffic, and therefore an opportunity to turn right on red. I prepared to step on the gas to make sure I would get us into the small opening in the Marine Drive traffic.


As the gap in cars was fast approaching, I saw my chance to dart quickly into the fast-moving traffic flowing from left to right. With my cell phone in my left hand, and still talking with Ernie, I gunned the accelerator of my six-cylinder Toyota Camry.


Just as the engine's thrust was kicking in, I heard this scream from Michael: "Ted, watch out!!" The tone of his voice indicated great danger, so I immediately got ready to hit the brake. I had barely touched the brake pedal when I felt the car jerk to a sudden standstill, like when an Automatic Braking System institutes a panic stop.  

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As the car came screeching to a halt, I looked to my right and saw a lady pushing a cart running toward us at a fast rate of speed. She came to a stop in the middle of our lane at the same time my Camry had come to a stop. My bumper was up against a bag she was carrying in her left hand, but she had not been touched. 


She had been running toward the intersection, probably thinking she would make it before the light changed. She realized she had narrowly escaped death and was understandably angry with me. While shouting profanities at me, she marched around the front end of my car and headed toward my window. Her intent was to, at best, give me a piece of her mind, or at worst, to inflict bodily harm. I did not wait around to learn which it was.


The 2012 Toyota Camry did not have the Automatic Emergency Braking System that can detect an impending collision, which is now standard equipment on all Camrys.


How did my car stop in time to avoid killing this pedestrian?


After our meeting at Adelup, Michael showed me a text he had received from his father right at about 2 p.m., the exact time of our "incident". "Michael, I know that God is with you and that your Guardian Angel helps you as mine does for me. Dad"


I have now memorized the verse in Psalm 34:7: "The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear him, and delivereth them."


I also will never forget this incident where a life was saved from my distracted driving and, as a result, my driving habits forever changed.


Theodore Lewis is the former CEO of Guam Memorial Hospital and has a healthcare consulting business in Bridgman, MI. He is collecting stories about lessons learned in life and can be reached at theodorelewis@yahoo.com.




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