Family learns value of wearing seat belts

On Sept. 11 as our nation was learning of the tragic events in New York and Washington D.C., Linda Peterson received the first of three calls a parent never wants to receive. Mrs. Peterson is the daughter-in-law of longtime Brady residents, C.P. and Mary Elizabeth McGowan. She is married to their oldest son, Phillip, and she worked for the Brady Standard-Herald in 1986. “I was already a nervous wreck when I got to work because of the news and my husband who is a cross-country truck driver was leaving California heading toward Harrisburg, Penn.,” recalls Linda. “I was just newly assigned to Manuel L. Real Elementary as their librarian. Everyone was worried sick, yet we were trying to carry on as normally as possible for the children.” What Linda learned via the phone was that their oldest son, Phillip Eric, 19, after driving his father to the company’s depot in Mira Loma, Calif., had fallen asleep on his way home and had crashed into a deep gully just west of Canyon Lake. “It took the tow truck two and a half hours to pull my car out,” said Eric. “The cops were amazed that I didn’t roll the car. My seat belt saved me from injury, but my little Toyota Tercell was totaled.” Within two weeks the couple had replaced their son’s car with a new Daewoo Lanos and little did they know but they were about to get the second call. While driving to work on Oct. 5, Eric would have another accident. Traffic on Hwy. 215 had backed up that morning because of construction and the car hit the back of another vehicle. “This one was even worse than the first because we had just financed a new car for him,” exclaimed Linda. “While we were so thankful he once again was okay because of his seat belt. We were fit to be tied knowing that he had wrecked the car.” Even though traveling less than 20 mph at impact, the car sustained over $5,000 worth of damage. All weekend the family worked on solving the transportation needs of a family of four grown-ups who only had two cars between them’the family van and their youngest son’s Toyota pickup. “Monday we had the new car picked up to go to the repair shop and decided that Michael would pick me up after work and take me to the yard for the van,” said Linda. “Little did I know I was about to get the third and final phone call.” The next day, Oct. 9, at 3:45 p.m. the phone rang in the school’s library and Linda was instructed to call a neighbor because her son had been in an auto accident. While she knew it couldn’t be her oldest son, she had no way of expecting her neighbor’s news. “The neighbor’s first words were, Linda, Michael isn’t dead but it looks real bad and my heart just broke,” said Mrs. Peterson. “All I could think of is how can I get to him’ I have no car, the school’s switchboard is getting ready to shut down and Phillip is on the road!” The neighbor, Kelly Jordan, went on tell Linda that 50 minutes earlier while on his way to pick up his mom, Michael had attempted to pass two vehicles while traveling along a frontage road three miles from their home. He had been driving his 1987 Toyota pickup. He had just finished “tricking it out” with a gleaming blue paint job, tinted windows sporting silver flames and a three-inch lift. He had gotten past the first auto when suddenly the van turned left in front of Michael’s truck. The teenager hit his brakes and twisted his wheel to the right in a failed effort to avoid hitting the van. The impact caused the van to spin a full circle and the truck flipped end over end down the center of the road. After completing a full rotation midair the truck came to rest upside down with Michael suspended from his seatbelt. A passerby recognized Michael’s truck and when told by the attending Sheriff that the accident was fatal, raced home to his mom who knew one of the family’s neighbors. Word quickly spread throughout the neighborhood and three stay-at-home moms went into action trying contact a family member. “I don’t know how I could have known so quickly about the accident if it hadn’t been for my “mom barricade”, said Peterson. “While Kim was trying to track down my oldest son, Kelly was trying to find out my work number and Dallas was driving to the accident site with her cell phone to talk to the police. None of them were willing to accept the fact that Michael was dead. They were doing everything they could to reach out to our family and were able to get word to me in less than an hour.” Begging to have her neighbor call her back in five minutes, the frantic mom raced to the switchboard to request the school receptionist to keep it open. From doorways, staff members streamed to surround the crying woman and help her back to her phone. “I don’t know what I would have done without them. Lynn Figurate had his arms around me praying, helping me focus, and Amy Clayton, another teacher, started calling the local hospital numbers Kelly had given me,” said Mrs. Peterson. “We struck gold with the first phone call, and I was told Michael was alive, awake, and talking. He had a serious head laceration which had been sewn up and he was being x-rayed for internal injuries.” The greatly relived, but shaken woman was then loaded into her co-worker’s car and driven the 20 miles to her house. “After Amy parked in my driveway, we hadn’t taken three steps and all three of my wonderful neighbors came running from their homes. They still were holding their phones!” said Peterson. “Next we collected Phillip, Eric and Kim, loaded into the truck and headed for the hospital. At this point I knew my son was alive but was worried about internal injuries.” Upon their arrival, the mother was buzzed into the emergency room. As she walked from bed to bed, she tried to get her emotions under control. Spotting her son, she ran forward to grasp his hand, while softly calling his name. “When he opened his eyes, and answered me back I knew everything was going to be okay,” said Mrs. Peterson. ” He looked horrible with this huge laceration that took 17 stitches. There was a lot of swelling and it looked he had moussed his hair with blood!” The teenager, while in shock, was still able to relate to his mother the events leading up to the accident and how he had been able to crawl out of the wreckage with help. After he had checked on the van’s driver who suffered a minor knee injury, he kept walking around his mangled vehicle. “Mom, my truck, it’s gone, what am I going to do,” sobbed Michael to his mom. “I don’t know why I am alive. My seatbelt held. I should be dead!” He went on to describe to his parent how complete strangers had stopped and asked to pray for him. As with most head injuries, the bleeding had been horrible, but even the paramedics upon their arrival, were amazed at the teenager’s good blood pressure. After undergoing six CAT scans for his head and pelvis area, the teenager was released with the deep laceration as his only injury. “Two days after the accident one of the passersby even called me on my cell phone to see how Michael was doing,” said Mrs. Peterson. “Every time I look at that mangled piece of metal, I marvel that my son made it out alive. The impact of the accident all but drove the truck’s engine into the cab, separated the cab from the bed of the truck and dislodged the radio from the dashboard. The truck’s roof was compressed down to the top of the headrest. While Michael was recovering from his injury, his grandmother Mrs. McGowan sent him a get-well card. The card was giant-sized since Mrs. McGowan has 12 living children, 29 grandchildren and 3 great children. “That card must have traveled all over Texas to get everyone’s signature from the oldest to the youngest”, Mrs. Peterson said. “I can’t begin to tell you how full my heart was when we opened that card. It just about matched my emotions from the ER.” “Don’t let anyone ever tell you seatbelts don’t save lives. My sons are living proof that they do. Since the first accident on Sept 11, our family has had it pretty rough, but through the help of our faith, family and community we are doing just fine.”

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