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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Motorcycle accident in Phuket

Remember my last post about having a bad dream about dead people? I guess it must have been an omen of the accident in Phuket on our second last day there.

We had checked out of our hotel at Patong and were driving in the direction of Chalong after a photo stop at Karon Beach. I was driving because of my inability to read maps accurately and my CEB who was sprawled next to me in the passenger seat, map in hand, told me to be careful of "that motorcyclist" as we were driving down a steep bend. I glanced to my left and saw abt 3 motorcyclists on the lane next to my lane, 1 of which was rather close to my car so I kept to the extreme right of my lane to give the motorcyclist a wide berth and slowed down my car.

And then I heard this screeching sound from somewhere behind the car and my CEB saying "the motorcyclist fell over, stop!". I remember stopping immediately (jam brakes) and then telling him "Ok, let me move the car to somewhere safe, we can't stop in the middle of this lane there is traffic behind us", and then starting to move the car to the other lane, intending to park at the road shoulder next to that lane. But my CEB yelled at me frantically not to move the car at all, and I couldn't understand why. I looked up in the rear mirror expecting to see the fallen bike there but it wasn't there. My mind went into autopilot, and I switched on the hazard lights, put the car to park, pulled up the handbrake and told my CEB that I was going to get out to help the motorcyclist. Mind still a blank, I got out of the rented car, walked to the back and saw the road was clear. Mouth fell open still unable to comprehend the motorcyclist's disappearance. Walked around the other side of the car and then my heart stopped.

Next to the car was a motorbike sprawled on its side, and the motorcyclist lying face down and unmoving with the bike pinned across his legs. I was gaping like a right fool, not sure what to do, but by then 2 locals who had probably witnessed the scene joined me, 1 of them had a whistle and went further up the bend to direct traffic away from the lane my rented car and the bike were in. The other felt for a pulse, called the ambulance and traffic police. Then I realised my CEB was next to me, he said he couldn't open his door and had to clamber out through the driver side. And indeed the front wheel of the fallen bike had pinned his door shut. We didn't dare to move or touch the fallen rider in case he had some spinal injury, but when one of the locals started lifting the bike off the rider, I went to help him lift up the bike. Someone else dragged the rider slightly forward and left the rider face down still on the road but at least the bike wasn't pressing on his legs.

I asked the local who had lifted the bike, if the ambulance was coming, he said it was. I think I lost track of time standing there with the cars and vans all going by the other lane, pp gaping at us standing next to the fallen rider and bike. I remember gg frantic that the wheels of one of the large trucks coming down the slope passed within a hair's breath of the fallen rider's head and praying that the ambulance and police would come soon. And they did come, I dun know how long after the accident - I lost track of time. I also remember snapping lots of photos cos our rented car was "in the picture", and remember worrying that we would be the next victims because of the many vehicles coming around the sharp bend - read somewhere of the risk of pp at an accident scene being involved in a second accident. The greatest fear though was the fallen rider was dead and if not dead, would be run over by an oncoming vehicle.

And then after what seemed like not too long a time but not too short either, the police and the ambulance came. The ambulance came from the opposite direction (Chalong) and had to do a three point turn so that its back would face the front of our car. The ambulance driver got out and rolled out a stretcher. And they flipped the fallen rider over. His eyes were large and staring, I thought he was dead and I felt so sick with dread at the sight of his eyes. And there was this cut right across his forehead which was bleeding bright red blood. But he could sit up and talk. I dun know if his legs were okay though cos we told him not to move. The police took some photos of the scenes, got the bike into the back of the police truck and asked us who the driver of the rented car was. I said I was driving and he asked for my license. He kept it and told us to follow him in our car to the station.

My CEB asked if I could still drive. And I said I was fine. We got into the car and it was silence in there again. We didn't know what to say when standing out there at the accident scene and it was no different in the car. I think both of us were in shock. I asked him if he had taken any photos and he said no, he left the camera at the passenger side's dashboard and he couldn't open the passenger side door. I remember wondering why he couldn't have taken it out with him when he clambered out my side. I think he reached for my hand at one stage and held it for a time before letting it go. Both of us were locked in prayer to our own Gods, all the way to the police station. There was no discussion of who was going to say what, or what was to be said. It was just praying and more praying.

When we got to the police station, the policeman pointed us to this room marked as "Interrogation Room". We sat side by side at a table there facing the police man who made a copy of my driving license using the printer on the desk. He returned my license to me and asked me for the rental agreement for the car which I gave to him. And then he called the rental company. I didn't know what he said, it was all in Thai, but I heard the letters TP said at one stage. I thought the police man would ask for a translator so we could tell him what had happened but he didn't. And that really worried me. He asked us to show him what happened by drawing a picture of the road on a page in a large notebook. My CEB indicated the positions of the vehicles on the road, and told the police man that he was the passenger and saw how the whole accident happened ie that the motorcyclist was trying to cut out of the lane next to us, riding closer and closer, and then, the motorcyclist wobbled and fell over. The police man didn't look like he understood what my CEB was saying in rapid English.

So, I told him, Car and motorcycle, no touch. Shook my head to indicate no and used both hands to represent both vehicles going side by side, my right hand pulling slightly ahead, and then flipping my left hand to show the motorcycle fliipping and then slidding down to impact the car. He repeated, no touch no touch. and I said no touch no touch, looking at him in the eye, using my hands to show again how both vehicles never had any contact prior to the rider falling, and how I kept to my lane the whole time (ie I didnt cut into the motorbike's path thereby causing him to fall) and the only time the vehicles contacted was when the bike slid all the way to hit the car. He appeared satisfied, and asked me where we would stay, when we would leave phuket and for a contact number. I told him I didn't buy a Thai Sim card and gave him my local mobile number. He told us we could leave by standing up. I asked him, using hands too to motion writing, no need to give statement, he just smiled and shook his head. I showed him the photos on my mobile phone (this photo above included) and asked him if I could give it to him, he also shook his head. We didn't know what to do and left the station.

My CEB asked me if I could drive and I said no problem. In the car, I told him , rather harshly I am afraid, to keep to the facts and not give the police information his views like he thought the rider was intending to cut out. That is an assumption, a presumption, his view, not a fact. My CEB was quiet for a time and I realised he was still shaken and upset. I asked him if he had ever been in accident before and he said yes, but not where an ambulance was involved. I reassured my CEB that he had still handled this accident very well, which indeed he had, by not falling apart and staying calm the whole time. If he had fallen apart, I am afraid I would have to shake him very hard indeed. I guess I knew what should be said because I had spent one invaluable year of my life doing personal injury cases. And as with all things, KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid, stick to facts, not views, speculations, assumptions.

When we reached our intended destination at Promthep Point, there was a statue of Buddha there and my CEB said he needed to pray to Buddha. So I waited under a tree some distance away and took the chance to pray to God that the rider would be fine, that we would not have any trouble leaving Thailand (like being hauled back to the station) the next day, and that the car rental company would not give us any problems at all when we returned the car. I also thanked God for keeping us safe throughout - when we were standing out there at the accident scene with the cars coming around the bend, and that our car was not hit hard enough by the bike to be pushed out to the opposite lane in the path of oncoming traffic. And thanked God further that the police was not corrupt here (they could have threatened to blame us for the accident unless we paid them) , and that our car was not damaged, and that I had insisted on full insurance coverage when renting the car.

We both felt really bad for the injured rider but we both knew that even if we had not been at the scene, the accident might have happened anyway, a case of a old motorbike going down a steep wet (it had been raining earlier) slope and the rider probably breaking suddenly (when he realised how far out of his own lane he was) and then losing control. I was also inmeasurably grateful to God that my CEB had been my point man then...I dread thinking of what would have happened if he wasn't with me to tell me to stop immediately and I had kept on moving to get to the road shoulder. I might have gone over the rider sprawled at the passenger side of my car because I couldn't see him.

Anyway, when we returned the rented car, the rental company's owner asked us what had happened and I showed him the pics on my hp and offered to email to him. He said it was not necessary and asked if any insurance pp showed up at the accident scene and I said none. Initially when we rented the car he was all jovial and even offered to fetch us to the airport free of charge. But when we returned the car, even though he shook both our hands, he refused to meet our eyes and we didn't want to remind him of his offer to give us a ride the airport. We figured that even though we didn't cause or contribute to the accident, we might have given him some extra trouble which he could have done well without.

I know accidents are part and parcel of life. Those parts where we have no control over, despite our best efforts. I know I didn't do harm/cause hurt to anyone in this accident. But neither my CEB and I could get the accident out of our minds throughout the rest of the trip, and I needed my CEB to hold me tight most of the night before I could fall asleep because everytime I shut my eyes, I could see the wide staring eyes of the fallen rider.

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