It was Thanksgiving Day 1992, I was feeling nervous about taking the
long drive with my two boys young boys out to the desert from Los
Angeles to visit my in-laws for the annual Thanksgiving family get
together. My daughter, the youngest was spending the weekend with her
best friends up in Solvang for the holidays, which later would turn
into a blessing.
I called my Mom in the morning to wish her and my Dad a Happy Thanksgiving and shared my unusual anxiety, actually pending doom feelings about taking the drive. I had always been a confident driver and never really worried about long drives or having an accident. She reassured me, wished me a Happy Thanksgiving and off I went to the desert to enjoy the family celebration. Were these feelings a premonition or women's intuition?
It was a cold but perfect day
out in the Mojave, the drive out was spectacular. I love the desert and
the stark beauty of the Joshua Trees that stand out tall in the flat
and rolling landscape. My new Toyota Cressida drove like a dream, quiet
and powerful she cruised along to our destination safely.
A dark a sad cloud hung over the DeVere family as we joined together to celebrate Thanksgiving. The recent death of my children’s Father in a car accident earlier that year was painfully on all our minds. We were all still grieving. He lost control of his Corvette on a mountain road after a few beers, while on vacation at the family cabin up in the Sequoia’s and died instantly of a head injury, he was just thirty eight. Perhaps this was why I was feeling so anxious about driving?
We left for home in the twilight, filled with Grandma Cleo’s cooking, lots of hugs and our heads filled with family stories shared in laughter and tears from the entire family about “what a guy” Bert DeVere and his adventure filled life.
The drive on Palmdale Highway 138, a two land undivided road, was lined with cars coming and going like bumper cars. I always hated this part of the drive and kept checking my speed to stay at 55 MPH, which was not my normal routine driving practice.
After about ten minutes, still feeling overly cautious, I looked over at my son in the front passenger seat and noticed his seatbelt was not fastened and sharply told him to “Put on your seatbelt, NOW!”, and glanced over my shoulder to make sure my other son was buckled up!
Thirty seconds later a small car
driven by a drunken women with five children, only one two year old in
a restraint system, swerved from the oncoming traffic 50 feet in front
of me. There was no way to avoid the accident. I slammed on my brakes
to attempt to stop in time. Her oncoming speed and my oncoming speed
were equal to at least 110 miles an hour. Not enough time to stop.
That moment of impact will be inbedded in my soul forever. Three of the five children were killed instantly. The woman driver killed her only daughter and all three of her sister’s children. She survived along with the two year old in the car seat and one other young boy cousin.
The cars gratefully swerved off onto the desert floor out of oncoming traffic, no other cars got caught up into the wreck. Once stopped I sprang into Mother Bear protection mode to get us all out of the car before a fire started, I kicked open the passenger door, climbed over my son and pulled he and my son in the back seat out and away from the car. I ran to the other car, she was alive. I asked her if she was okay and peered into the car. The scene was gruesome; I smelled blood and all the children were deathly quiet. A stranger pulled me aside and told me he would take care of things here.
Shock started to set in as I walked back and collapsed beside my two boys on the desert floor. It was freezing cold. We were forty five minutes away from the nearest hospital. More strangers pulled over to assist. Because we all survived some of these strangers made angry accusations as they walked passed, they assumed I was the at fault driver. I protectively gathered my son’s to me and tried to keep them warm. A kind couple in a motor home brought blankets, covered us and stayed with us and spoke comforting words until help arrived. I will be ever grateful.
We were all transported to the local hospital by ambulance. In the emergency room I watched the Highway Patrol officers go to her bed speak quietly to her for a few minutes and then began a bone chilling chorus of her wailing; “I killed my sister’s babies. I killed my sister’s babies”.
The decision to check my son’s seatbelts thirty seconds before the accident saved his life. By the grace of God, we all walked away from the accident with severe seatbelt injuries, sore for several weeks and left with dreams, nightmares and feelings of inappropriate survivor guilt that would haunt me for years. I asked myself a thousand times, “What could I have done differently to avoid hitting them?” I replayed the accident in slow motion over and over again and again in my mind to find an answer that was not to be found.
I read about her in the paper, she was cited for three counts of vehicular manslaughter. How would she live with the consequences of her drunk driving? My heart ached for this woman, her sister and her family, those innocent children.
Remember me and my story this Thanksgiving. Fasten your seat belts, make sure to use and install a proper car seat for your children, drive defensively and don’t drink and drive. The lives of your family and other’s are at stake!
I am so grateful the lives of my two son's were spared and that we will be celebrating another joyous holiday together along with my precious grandchildren.
Wishing you all Happy and Safe Thanksgiving travels!
For more trips for safe road travel during the Thanksgiving weekend go here: