Sadness. . .1969

I was 21 and had just spent the weekend with my 15-year-old foster-son, Kenny Johnson, at the home of my mom's friend in Los Gatos. About an hour after we all had dinner, Kenny and I had to get back up to Oakland so we could get up early. It was dark and cold outside. 

We made it out to the main road a block from the freeway and I beheld a terrible sight. A '65 Mustang was sitting in the slow lane, wreckage was everywhere and a car's front end was way over there near the parking lot. 

The road went from four lanes to two and the guy driving the car would not slow, hit a lightpole and cut the car in half at the firewall. An apparent dragrace, but I never heard about it. 

There was a young woman in the road behind the car, about 20 feet behind it, writhing in agony and going out of her mind with anxiety and pain. She was about to go into shock. I parked the car sideways to block the road behind her, told Kenny to get the blankets and pillows out of the backseat. Seems we were the first ones on scene. 

Her right foot was all but severed. I quickly looked into the Mustang and decided the two guys in the front seats were dead as the roof had rolled down on them to their waists. Other than that, they looked normal. No pulses. Back to the woman. She had been ejected through the back window. 

As Kenny put the pillows under her head I elevated her leg, squeezed her ankle hard and held her foot up so as to keep it attached. I then told Kenny to put a tourniquet around her ankle. The blood just would not stop. Kenny cradled her head. 

She kept screaming that her dad would kill her if she hurt the car and the china in the trunk and wanted to know how her friends were. Every few minutes she would say it—over and over. I would tell her her dad was not mad and that her friends were fine and the china didn't take a single chip. Over and over. She would calm down a little and then she went off again. 

After about 20 minutes a crowd had gathered. At least 50 people. I wondered where the cops were. I hollered for help and for someone to call an ambulance. We were exactly on the border of Los Gatos and Campbell, also CHP and sheriff's territory. I hollered for crowd members to help.

"Please come here and help!"

It was hard, I was on my knees holding her ankle on my shoulder and her foot at the same time without tearing it off. They just all stayed back about 50 feet. No one would come forward. 

After what seemed like an hour but was really only 25 minutes, two cops showed up. A Los Gatos patrolman and a CHP officer. The Los Gatos cop stopped behind my car. The CHP officer stopped on the other side of the Mustang. An ambulance appeared. 

The Los Gatos cop asked me what was up and I told him that she was in bad shape as a result of the leg injury and she was trying to go into shock. It was all I could do to keep her calm at times. Then she went off again.

"Are my friends alright? Is the car ok? My dad will kill me if I hurt it or that china!" 

We get her on the gurney, about to roll to the hospital, only two miles away. Then the CHP officer comes over and hears the end of her last burst and he leans over her and says what I will never forget.

"Don't worry about your friends. They're dead." 

She snapped out—just like a light. I could have strangled him on the spot. I shouted at him.

"What the hell is wrong with you?" 

The crowd left, Kenny and I sat in the gutter. I started crying as I knew that cop had killed her. The crowd just stood there, silent and unmoved. 

I couldn't drive 50 miles right then. I told Kenny that he was covered with blood. He said I was, too. So, we went back to Libby's house and my Mom opened the door. I was still upset and said I couldn't drive home just now and went to clean up. I told them about the wreck and cried alot for that girl. 

We left after a while. A few days later I called Mom to see how the girl was. She said she had survived and was going to be fine. Even got to keep the foot. I was glad—but still infuriated with that Chip. That was the last I ever heard of it until. . .

Sadness revisited—32 years later

I'm in the yard at San Leandro when a driver that has been gone awhile (hadn't met him yet) arrives. He's from Los Gatos, too. Four years younger than me but we know all the same people. A first sergeant of Army reserves. Nam vet. 

We talk for days about our youth and friends. We update each other on who is still alive and how some died. I never had a homie before. It was great! Something in common. 

Then I tell him about a good thing that happened once out on Bascom Road. I tell him all about a young woman (she was about 17) that my foster-son and I had tried our best to help once. 

At the end of the story he asked, "That was you?"

I said, "Yeah, we did some good."

He said he'd read about it in the paper. They all went to school together. It was a big deal. He told me her name was Lori J. Herring. She died after the wreck, he said. I never even knew her name. 

The same anger inside me toward the cop came up again. My Mom had lied to me to make me feel better. Libby said I was very "emotional" over it. In retrospect, I can see why they wanted it to end for me. It left me sad, empty, beaten. 

Ernie told she was buried in the Los Gatos graveyard out on Bloosom Hill Road. If I am rained out tomorrow I'm gonna ride the Harley down there and put some flowers on her grave and tell her I tried my best. 

Semper Fly, Cal. 
    *     *
The author:
Cal Tobin, Jr.
SSgt. USMC
1972–1992

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