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Survivor: Sandy Vicarel MAG
Driving can be scary, especially for those of us who a renew at it. This is the story of Sandy Vicarel. She survived an automobile accident and wants to tell young drivers about it. Her whole life changed in that moment.
Describe the accident you were in during high school.
It was a really nice day. At about 7 p. m. I met my friends for dinner. I was driving down a street and there were branches over a stop sign so I didn't see it. I went through it and a car hit us. We spun around and hit another car with an older couple in it. My car was shoved into a gas main, which started leaking. Luckily no one was smoking or the whole block would have blown up.
I passed out and woke up as a man pulled me out of my window. I started screaming and crying. I looked in the back seat and three of my friends looked dead [Sandy cries].
Anyway, we were all taken to the hospital in an ambulance. I was hysterical. I couldn't even lie down in the ambulance; I had broken ribs and needed stitches in my face. I did not want to call my mother because she had 40 women over that night. I remember going into the emergency room and a lady trying to call her. I grabbed the phone and started crying.
What was the nature of the injuries to your passengers?
Three of them were hospitalized; two had operations and one was in traction for months. One was in a body cast for six months, had to have pins put in her leg and walked with a cane. One who was sitting in the front only needed stitches in her hand.
Was everyone wearing a seat belt?
Probably no one was because this happened in 1971. This was the first time my family had a new car, and my father had made sure he bought one with steel side beams. That's probably the only thing that saved us.
Were you cited for the accident?
Yes. It was the summer before my junior year and I'd had my license for one day. I remember my driving instructor dropping me off the day I got it and saying the next time he wanted to see my picture in the newspaper was when I got engaged. Not even two days later I was on the front page because of the accident.
I was cited for going through the stop sign. When I went to court my lawyer presented a list of the many accidents that had happened in that spot over the years because of the hidden stop sign.
What did the city do to make it a safer intersection?
They cut down the branches that covered the sign and put signs on either side of the street. There is a caution light now and a "Stop Ahead" sign preceding the intersection.
How were you affected mentally by this accident?
It basically ruined my junior and senior years of high school. I felt terrible. What it did to me mentally, seeing my friends like that and wishing it were me . . . I can't even explain the feelings I had.
How did your peers treat you?
When I left the emergency room there were about 300 kids waiting because a boy who lived down the street called everyone. They said we were drunk, we were combing our hair, we were putting on make-up, but we weren't doing any of those things.
Some people were very good about it and some weren't. I started hanging around with a new group of friends. The girl who walked with a cane was called 'Hopalong' and rumors that she wouldn't be able to have children were started. Kids can be brutal.
Even now when I see people who went to my high school they'll say, 'Oh, I remember you. You were the one in that bad car accident. ' That is not how I want to be remembered. Some people treated me nicely, but over the years hearing all that makes you feel horrible.
Did adults treat you differently?
Adults treated me badly. One of my best friends who was not involved actually wrote the mother of one of the girls in the accident that it was not my fault. Even nine years later at my wedding, the parents of one of the girls passed my parents and did not congratulate them, as if it were their fault. This is something that never goes away.
When did you start to drive again?
I did not drive again until March of the following year. I couldn't. I kept feeling myself crunch. I would stop at every light even if it was green. I'm still paranoid about intersections.
Will this affect how you will treat your children's driving privileges?
Yes, a lot. My kids will not be driving when they are 16. It is just too young. They will not be allowed to drive with other people in their car for a long time, then later maybe with one or two others.
What is your advice to teenage drivers?
Do not drive with a lot of kids in the car. The more people there are the worse it gets. Also, be especially careful in unfamiliar territory. Look ahead, especially when coming up to an intersection. Always wear your seat belt. Speeding is very dangerous. Be very cautious.
Is there anything you want to add?
I cried every single day for years. The broken ribs and stitches were horrible. I will never forget my sister trying to comb the blood and glass out of my hair. I still cry about it and I'm 44 years old. You don't think it can happen to you, but it can.