On the day of my grandma’s funeral, it began to snow.
I had taken time off from school to travel all the way up to Grand Rapids, Minn., to be there for my family and to say goodbye to the wonderful lady who had touched all of our lives. The day of the funeral, I had an eight-hour trip back to Madison ahead of me, and needless to say, I was not excited about the prospect of my mom and I having to drive through flurries the whole way to the Megabus stop.
As we drove away from the church, the roads got progressively worse. Traffic slowed, and my mom’s convertible slid a little as the pavement was slicked with snow. I typed our destination into my phone’s GPS and it took us along a few back roads before leading us to Highway 2. Soon enough, we began to notice police cars, marked and unmarked, flashing their lights and passing us as quickly as they could in the dangerous conditions. Once we were brought to a complete standstill on the road, we figured out why.
Up ahead, a small, grey car rested in a ditch. My view of the road was obscured by the line of cars that had been stopped leading up to the accident scene. Firemen, EMTs, state patrol officers and paramedics were racing to the scene one-by-one in pickup trucks, ambulances, firetrucks and even four-wheelers. Before long, the cars ahead of us were instructed to turn around, and we followed them shortly after.
As we turned, I got my first full view of the scene and I immediately felt my breath catch. The second car involved in the crash was torn to pieces in the middle of the road. Firefighters were using Jaws of Life to rescue the driver of the vehicle in the ditch, and debris littered the scene.
Once we turned around and took a detour, the snow stopped, and I made it to the Megabus stop safely and departed for Madison. Still, I could not shake the image of the torn-up car from my mind. I pondered the fate of the drivers and passengers. Had anyone been killed? I kept Googling things that I thought might bring up information about the crash: Highway 2 accident, Grand Rapids car accident, car accident reports… anything.
A few hours later, I found my answer. I remembered something mentioned in lecture that I could use as a resource: public records. I went to the Minnesota State Patrol site and searched for the most recent incident reports. Sure enough, the second crash that popped up was the one my mom and I had driven into.
The torn-up vehicle in the middle of the road was the one to cause the accident. The driver of that car, 61-year-old Alice Lemcke, swerved across the median and hit the other car head-on. That car ended up careening into the snowy ditch nearby. I was horror-struck when I found out that the driver – the man they were using the Jaws of Life to remove – had died. He was 38 years old. He had two passengers in his car: his 13-year-old son and 12-year-old daughter. And the ultimate twist? The man who died in the accident was from my hometown, three hours southeast of the accident.
A day or so later, stories began to appear on the accident when I Googled the man’s name. Most simply summarized the Minnesota State Patrol’s report and offered no further details on the crash. That upset me. The crash has haunted me ever since, and I have been looking for follow-up stories about the accident to no avail.
Unfortunately, things like fatal car accidents are too common to warrant extensive news coverage. Though I was deeply affected by what I saw on the highway that day, it was one of hundreds of fatal car accidents that occurred in 2013. According to Minnesotans for Safe Driving, there were 395 deaths and 29,314 injuries resulting from crashes and traffic accidents in 2012 alone. Imagine how much ink would spill from the presses if each fatality included just one follow-up news story.
Though it’s been almost a month since the sparsely-covered crash, I still find myself thinking about the car that sat obliterated in the middle of the road. I think about how heartbroken I was to hear that a father left behind two kids when he died. I think about how sterile and emotionless the Minnesota State Patrol report and the resulting news stories covering the crash turned out to be.
Sometimes, journalism doesn’t satisfy our desire to feel.