“That’s brain matter, she’s gone.”
Is not something you ever want to hear a paramedic say. Offroading, especially night wheeling, can be extremely fun, rewarding, and a great way to get to know one’s vehicle and expand one’s driving skill. But just like driving anywhere else, you have to respect what you’re doing, or you could end up in the situation I witnessed last night.
In continuing reading, please be aware that there is injury and death and potentially graphic (though I tried to keep that to a minimum) descriptions. This is not a lighthearted Oppo post, because the situations you may find yourself in driving are not lighthearted, either.
A couple of friends and I decided to head up to a trail outside of Boulder to do a little bit of offroading, camp for a night, and generally just get out into the woods to relax. We found a great spot to set up camp around 10pm, and once the tents were up and gear was unloaded, we set out on a nightwheeling run on the Pennsylvania Gulch trail, a moderate off-road trail a short drive from our campsite. Thanks to diff lockers and a few good old Moab bumps over the slick, wet rocks, we made it through the trail without much trouble and without ever having to pull cable. At the end of the trail, we stopped, shut off the lights, and enjoyed the calm and the peace of the clear, starry night sky above us. The short drive back to camp brought us to a warm fire tended by some of the friends who hadn’t come wheeling. Sitting around the crackling fire, talking, joking, and cooking up some corn on the cob over the coals made the weekend feel exactly like the relaxation we all were there for.
It was right around 2:30am, and in the background somewhere off on one of the trails was the recognizable sound of what we took to be a Jeep inline six, and then a big “THUNK!”. “That sounds expensive,” I quipped to my buddy. We agreed that someone must have just slammed an axle into a rock. Fifteen or so minutes passed, and the sound was quickly forgotten. Then came the distant cries of “Help!” - we couldn’t tell the direction well, but grabbed headlamps and a 9mm and set out into the woods trying to get closer to whatever dire situation was unfolding, expecting to simply find some unaware camper startled by a wild animal. After failing to find the source of the sound on foot, two of us hopped in a truck and drove out along one of the dirt roads, scanning with lights. After what seemed like forever, we saw lights and heard “OVER HERE! OVER HERE!”
After cresting a slight rise, we saw it. A Dodge M37 truck, off the trail, laying nose down in a hole taller than the vehicle. I scanned with my headlamp and saw someone laying motionless on the ground in the hole next to the truck, and two guys on the phone with 911. One was covered in blood, suffering from a head injury, and completely battered and visibly shaken. “Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit, oh shit, what have I done,” he whimpered. He was the driver. We quickly learned that there was one more victim, in the small space between the truck’s bumper and hood and the sheer rock of one side of the hole. The driver began giving chest compressions to the girl we first saw as I clambered down to check on the condition of the boy. He wasn’t moving, and the breathing was shallow and intermittent. As the breathing came almost to a stop and the pulse was unnoticeable, I began chest compressions. His mouth was full of blood and his teeth. His lungs felt like the were full of fluid as well.
“The lungs are full of blood, ask dispatch if its okay to turn him over! Can I put him on his stomach or his side?!”
“Side, put him on his side!”
It takes a lot more strength than you’d expect to roll someone in that condition over onto their side.
Once he was on his side, supported by the rock, I frantically cleared what I could out of his mouth, and continued chest compressions.
“Hey, can you smell fuel down there?”
Shit. I can. I hadn’t thought of that. And the headlights are still on. There’s live electricals. This better not get any worse, I can’t leave this guy and I can’t carry him out by myself either. Luckily, the fuel never became an issue.
More cars start showing up. Chest compressions continue. First responders arrive. They get the girl out of the pit and keep working. Two guys climb down to me and between the three of us we get what I’ve already started considering as “my victim” out of the pit. Paramedics and the Sheriff are here and they take over. Given the trails we were on, calling it an impressive response time would be the biggest of understatements. My friend that was with me at the scene recalled seeing their lights flying through the woods, at speeds that, on those trails, really highlighted the driving skill of these guys, something else I can greatly respect them for in addition to their medical expertise.
Everyone’s out of the pit, and that’s when one of the paramedics drops the line I don’t want to hear again.
“That’s brain matter. She’s gone.”
It does not feel good to hear that. Ever.
Everyone that showed up to help is brought over to talk to the Sheriff. You can tell he’s seen situations like this before, and no one can be envious of those repeated experiences.
“I’m not gonna bullshit you guys; there’s two bodies.”
Neither one made it. That feels even worse to hear.
“Is everyone here doing okay? We have people you can talk to, if you need it now or anytime in the future. Here’s my business card, you can call me anytime if you need anything or need to talk. Unfortunately I’ll be here for a while, so you know where to find me in person, too, for the next few hours.”
What a great guy, and a sincere, genuine extension of help if any of us needed it. But there was a big Golden Retriever there with one of the other campers, and, man, can a happy, energetic dog like that go a long way towards making anyone feel great. Seriously, you can’t be sad while giving a dog a belly rub.
“Don’t worry sir, we’ve got this dog here so it’s okay.”
After chatting a bit more with the Sheriff, we were free to go. On the way back to the truck, I saw too many Keystone Light cans in the wrecked Dodge. The two passengers were the victims of senseless drunk driving that night. Whether its on the road or off road, driving drunk will get people killed. Yeah, sure, everyone here knows this, but how many times would you think “Oh, no I’ll be okay this time for X reason.”? Whatever that reason, it’s never good enough. Never. Unless you want to be responsible the next time a paramedic recognizes brain matter and knows exactly what that means. Don’t drive drunk or otherwise impaired and don’t get in the car with someone who is; take your driving seriously, because otherwise it could take a life.
Thank you for making it through that, and please consider the effects your decisions have on other people every time you get behind the wheel. This was a harsh reminder to my friend and me, and if it is a reminder to at least one person reading this, then sharing this experience is a success.
EDIT: I wanted to add a few things that I didn’t get across in the original post. Of the people that ended up showing up to help, other than the guy I drove in with, everyone was from different campsites, all coming to help out and do what they could. What an amazing group of people, always asking the guys in uniform there what they could do to help. I sure do hope that if I ever find myself in a bad situation like this there’s a group of people like the ones I met last night close by - I have a lot of respect for all of their attitudes, professionalism, and willingness to help for being a bunch of tired people just going camping for the weekend like us. One of the guys definitely had some exceptional medical training, and his ability to communicate the situation to the pros and offer an extra set of skilled hands to help them when they arrived seemed to be a huge help to the paramedics arriving on scene. That guy was as much a hero as anyone wearing a uniform. Also, the buddy I was with was instrumental in getting us to the right place, as I could not track the cries for help like he could. He also helped lead some of the first responders vehicles in and got anyone showing up like us ready for what to expect. Again, just great people overall.
Secondly, I highly recommend taking any medical training you have the opportunity to do. I would have loved to have had the knowledge that would’ve come from a WFR (Wilderness First Responder) class, but as it was the various bits and pieces of first aid I’ve learned over the years, from Boy Scouts to teaching water sports to teaching shooting definitely helped me do as much as I felt I comfortably could have. Any little bit could always come in handy.
EDIT 2: The truck turns out to have been a Dodge M37, not a Jeep CJ as I originally thought. After looking at the pictures of an M37, I don’t know how I mistook it for a CJ8, but I still can’t remember seeing any semblance of a roof on it, it was dark, and I wasn’t too focused on the car.