Monday, January 2, 2017

Brakeless in Pacifica

Our car accident in 1963 made all the newspapers even as far as Bakersfield!

I was 11 at the time, and my mom was driving us to church. The car was a used 1951 Studebaker. I was sitting in the back seat, behind my mom; my sister Laurie was next to me, and our brother Arlo was in the front seat. No seat belts, of course. This was before seat belts were installed in most cars. Also, before shatter-proof glass in the windows. 
1951 Studebaker, like the one we had.
I was holding on to a small stuffed leopard that I named "Leopard QQ".  I brought him everywhere with me, my own pocket-sized "pet".  For whatever reason that I have never been able to fathom, I blurted out: "This is the first time I've ever ridden in this car....and the last!" My sister seemed to think that was funny. Not sure why I said it, but it turned out to be prophetic.
 

We were on our way to church, and had just passed the first crest of Manor Drive, a steep, 2-mile-winding road. At that point, my mother pumped the brakes, and got no response.  She tried the gears, also getting no response. My mom didn't know anything about the overdrive feature on the car, which rendered the gears useless. She then told us, as we were hurtling down the hill that we were all going to die, and that we needed to say the "Act of Contrition" (the prayer that Catholics say to get into Heaven, if they think they are going to die soon).

Arlo was screaming his head off, looking towards the back.  He was expressing what we all were feeling! Laurie got on the floor, and I held on to the back seat.   Mom drove that car beautifully, dodging everyone and everything in her path, as that car took on speed.  Anyone who knows that road will understand what a challenge that was. On the way down, she hit not one thing...or person. 

We hit the beach, flipping over, twice. I remember counting the rotation of the car as it flipped over. The sand helped to slow us down, which was a good thing, as the edge of the cliff was only a few feet away.  I don't remember emerging from the car.  I didn't realize that Leopard QQ wasn't with me, until later.

Miraculously, we all survived that accident.  Some people came out to put blankets over us, and called an ambulance. The car was balanced on its roof, not crumpled-up, but intact.  Gas was leaking, and someone told everyone to keep a distance. 

Mom had a cut finger, I had glass in my legs (still have the scars), along with bruises, and Laurie had to stay in the hospital for a few minor injuries. Arlo didn't even have a scratch. I guess his screaming helped!

Later, when the wrecking yard hauled the car away, they found Leopard QQ in the sand, and he was returned to me. I was comforted by their thoughtfulness.

We never did make it to church that day, but were told that Father Gluzek said a prayer for us. Someone mentioned that the "miracle" had already happened. We were in church the next week, however, giving thanks. 
Church of the Good Shepherd, Pacifica, CA.
Here is a picture of our mom, Marie Hagler, and our family in 1963, just before that accident (and before our brother George was born)

Two years later, Mom was driving a more reliable car, the TR3:

The last time I saw my mom was in 2008, to say goodbye.  She was in the hospital, and would pass away shortly afterwards. Among other things, I told her that she "drove like a champ" that day.  That put a smile on her face. 

Here are a few of the news clippings of our crash. Some news reporters embellished for dramatic effect, but the basic story is there.  (Click on the photos for larger images)











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