The Angel Highway – A Survivor Story - National Safety Council

The Angel Highway – A Survivor Story

Life lessons on surviving a distracted driving crash.

Pennie Hunt
October 31, 2020

It was June 11, 2018. The stop-and-go traffic on the interstate turned to a complete stop. In my rear-view mirror I saw a vehicle coming toward me. I pumped my brakes in hopes of the driver seeing my brake lights. Closing my eyes, I held the steering wheel as tightly as I could, thinking, “So this is how it’s going to be.” I KNEW I was going to die.

The jolt of the car hitting me somewhere between 65 and 75 mph slammed my car into a concrete construction barrier. The front windshield instantly shattered and pushed into my face. Then it seemed as if I was silently flying forever as my car flew 35 yards. I thought that maybe I was already dead and when I landed, I would be someplace magical. 

My car bounced several times landing on its top. I was suspended upside down held by my seat belt and crushed in a position so tightly I couldn’t move. I was covered in glass and debris. I was afraid to open my eyes. I could hear steaming, hissing and sounds from my car. Now, I was certain if I wasn’t already dead, I would die soon.

This is not a feeling you can prepare for.

This is not a feeling you forget.

A driver stopped and began yelling to me, “Are you ok?  I can’t believe you are alive, there is no way you could have survived this- you should be dead!” I received a stream of similar comments from the EMT’s, firemen and the ER doctors.

An EMT named Sarah climbed through the broken back window to reach me. She talked to me keeping me calm and conscious. When the sirens of the fire trucks came closer, she said, “Can you hear that? They are coming to help you and will know how to get you out!”

The firemen used saws to cut my car apart. Five of them pulled me out and laid me on the hot asphalt. Shaking from shock and blood running down my face from a blow to my head, I was rushed by ambulance to the hospital. 

One distracted moment from another driver took away more than a year of my life and changed me forever. I was told, the distracted driver appeared unhurt and went home to her family and her life.

Post-traumatic stress is real. The nightmares were horrific. A siren instantly put me back in my car, upside down, the seat belt digging into my neck and waist, my head lodged in the sunroof. The smell of hot asphalt or the heat of a road brought back being pulled out of the wreckage, surrounded by smells of antifreeze, gasoline and transmission fluid.

I could remember every millisecond of the collision, but I would walk right by someone I had known for years and not recognize them.

I could no longer do the things I loved – play with my grandchildren, yoga, riding my bike, or swimming. Headaches from my concussion, and neck pain from the whiplash made it impossible for me to sit at a computer or look at a screen. I couldn’t read. I couldn’t write. I couldn’t do my work.

My balance was impaired and while walking my leg would buckle or go sideways as if it had a mind of its own. I saw the world as if I was looking through a fishbowl. I do not have the same vision as before the collision. That is something that cannot be corrected or ‘fixed.’ For more than a year, my life revolved around physician appointments, physical therapy, sleeping and pain.

I never planned to drive again. It took time before I began driving back roads, avoiding other cars. The interstate was a source of visceral fear.

The highway patrolman who investigated my collision said several things happened right or I would not have survived. If I was hit by a larger vehicle the outcome would have been devastating. I had swerved slightly left when I stopped in traffic, which kept me from being accordioned between the line of cars ahead of me and the car that hit me- this could have caused many deaths. And I was wearing a seat belt.

I also believe that a team of angels held me in the car that day. Now I call that stretch of interstate, The Angel Highway. When I am on it, I say a prayer of gratitude that I am alive and send blessings to my angels, family, friends, first responders, and medical professionals that helped me through this journey.

The National Safety Council just celebrated Distracted Driving Awareness Month in October. According to the CDC, each day in the U.S., distracted driving incidents cause 1,000 injuries and 9 deaths. I am one of the lucky ones.

My life lesson: If you are going to drive, wear a seat belt and put away your phone.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Pennie Hunt

Pennie Hunt is based in Cheyenne, Wyoming and is the author of the book, “Love Your Life- NO MATTER WHAT - 76 Tips to Live Life With Love and Gratitude.” She writes the blog, “From the Corner of Spirit & Brave,” is a professional speaker and member of the National Speakers Association.