terribly right

I did the right thing, the legal thing, the safety conscious thing, and I’ve felt terrible ever since.

She looked scared, and confused, as I pulled my truck in nose-to-nose with her Outback, and I wasn’t surprised that she waived me over as soon as I stepped out into the parking lot.  I noticed she was very close to the car next to her, a Charger, so I went around the back to approach her window.

“I’m sorry, I’ve never done this before, but I’ve somehow locked myself in.”

Her hair was white.  Her skin sagged away from fragile arms.  She had lived many years.  Her voice was small.  It didn’t quiver, but it was full of fear and confusion.  Her eyes begged for me to solve this mystery for her, so she could get her shopping done and continue with her day.  I asked if she had a key fob, and if she had tried to unlock the door using that button, and she quickly produced and tried again.

“Yes, here, I’ve already tried that.” She clicked the button and I heard the locks distinctly disengage.   She heard it too and tried to open the door, but it still would not budge.

That was when my attention was drawn to how close she was to the vehicle next to her and I finally saw that her driver-side mirror was flush with the neighboring car’s passenger-side mirror.  More than flush, they were touching, and that was likely the culprit in keeping her trapped in her vehicle. “I think you’ve hit this car next to you, why don’t you back up, and straighten out, and let’s see if that will let you open your door?”

“Oh, okay.”

So, she put her Outback in reverse and moved back two feet, and her door popped open immediately.  There were clearly scrapes grooved into her mirror and I said, “You’ve got some damage on your mirror, why don’t you pull back in and we’ll figure out what to do next.”

“Oh, that’s okay if my mirror is scraped.  I’m sure I didn’t damage the other car.”

“Why don’t you pull back in and we can see if there is or not.”

At that point I couldn’t move closer to the Charger to see if the mirror was scraped as well without risking her hitting me as she either pulled in or swung around in backing out. “No…  I think it would best if I change changed spaces…”

“Why don’t you just pull back in, and we’ll figure out what to do next,” I repeated myself, calmly trying to get her to park her Subaru so we could properly assess the situation together.  But, she would not listen.

“I think I should just change spaces, that would be best.”

And, so, she did.

She moved ten spaces down and parked and went into the grocery store…

I looked over the Charger, saw that there was damage to its mirror and then retrieved a scrap of paper from my truck, walked down the aisle to where the Outback was parked and wrote down her license plate number along with a quick summary of what had happened.  Then I went back to the Charger and waited… and waited… and waited. I was hoping the owner would come out so I could tell him what happened and he could make up his mind if the damage was enough that he wanted to call the cops to report the incident.  I was hoping the driver of the Outback would come back out so I could try again to convince her to at least leave a note with her contact information.

I waited for an hour, and would have waited a few minutes longer before leaving my note on the Charger’s windshield… but then a cop car rolled through the parking lot. He was there on a separate hit-and-run incident. I flagged him down and told my story.  He thanked me for doing the right thing and said he’d handle it from there, and I finally went about my errands, nearly 90 minutes after first pulling into the parking lot.

I know I did the right thing.  Legally, it was a hit-and-run and the little-old-lady driving the Subaru Outback should have left a note with contact information so the insurance companies could handle the resultant claims to repair the damage. She left.

She hit.

She ran.

Once the cops are involved, it becomes more than a matter of insurance, but a misdemeanor.  I know, because I’ve been in that situation myself, but that is a story for a different day.

I know I did the right thing.  Safety-wise, I have no idea how long she had been sitting in her vehicle, scared and confused, “locked in.”  If she couldn’t figure out that she had hit the car next to her and that’s what was keeping her door from opening, she probably shouldn’t be driving around anymore.  Maybe by turning her in I saved some lives.

I know I did the right thing.  I know she will probably have her license revoked.  I know these things, and I also know the pain, humiliation, and inconveniences she will experience with the resulting court proceedings for the misdemeanor charge.

I know she is likely losing a huge part of her freedom in getting out her house to run errands, see friends, get things done… to live.  I know that if someone had turned in my grandma, and completely changed her life for the worse, over the same kind of minor parking lot fender-bender I’d be very angry.

And I am angry.

I’m angry with the Outback driver for not doing the right thing on her own and therefore putting me in the position she put me in.  I’m angry at myself for turning her in.  I’m angry that I can’t let this go and accept that the “right thing” was the best option.

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45 thoughts on “terribly right

    • There were other people in the parking lot… other people saw, but nobody else was going to step in and help in any way.
      It was a rather disappointing 90 minutes all around.

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  1. I am sure the woman had grown children who said, “Mom I don’t want you to drive anymore.”
    I know she had grandchildren who said, “I love Grandma but I don’t want to be in the car with her.”

    I bet she has a family who loves her but they were afraid to take away the keys. Far too often it takes something like this.

    Forget the damage to the other car, she could have killed herself or someone else. It is easier to find a helper/driver than most people think. Yes, losing that freedom is a horrible turning point, but losing your life is a far worse option.

    Thanks for posting this. We ALL have to watch those we love and make sure they are safe. Don’t be afraid to tell someone “you can’t drive anymore.” I don’t care if they are old or drunk or just a bad driver.

    I know it wasn’t easy but you did the right thing. Thank you for sharing this and bringing the conversation out in the open. But damn, I hate to hear stories like this.

    Liked by 1 person

    • When I shared this story with my mom, she said basically the same thing… She had been hit by a little old man in a parking lot. It was just a little fender bender, but it was enough that she had take it to her insurance. Two days later she got a call from one of the man’s children: “Thank you, thank you, thank you, and we are so glad you weren’t hurt.” They’d been trying to get him to stop driving for a while, but he wasn’t listening to them. (Mom, if you are ready, I know I mangled the story, but I also know I got the gist of it right.) So,.. Yeah, I know I did the right thing. I know that. I just wish it didn’t feel so terrible in the process.

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  2. The other commenters are right on for the reasons they expressed. As a matter of safety, it is best that the lady face reality now rather than after some unfixable harm had occurred – like the death of a pedestrian. She would likely pooh-pooh such a statement, but if her sense of where her vehicle began and ended was no longer valid, it would just be a matter of the right circumstances occurring and she could easily be guilty of manslaughter. You did the right thing.

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    • Thank you for reading and commenting. Yes, it would seem I probably saved her from the inevitability of a worse situation… and I should take comfort in that. And, perhaps I do to some extent, but it does still feel wrong too.

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      • You know DJM that if you had been trolling for offenders, had called the cops without trying everything you could do to get her to report it, I would agree, you would be wrong. But you did not. First, she asked for your help, involving you. Second you tried over and over to convince her to do the right thing – to report the incident and she refused, numerous times. Third, you assessed the damage and, not wanting to be treated the way the she was treating the other car owner, used 90 minutes of your time waiting for either her or the other owner to come out. Fourth, you did not call the cops, but rather when they came by after you had waited 90 minutes with no idea how long it would take, you put the obviously illegal actions into their hands – precisely where they belonged. Fifth, as much the outcome will be painful for the lady, it would be a walk in the park compared to the punishment for harming someone. Having accidentally (he was on my side of the road) killed a man years ago, i can tell you that it haunts you forever. You saved her from that.

        All in all DJ, you acted in a manner that protected both the lady and the owner of the other car, without standing in judgement or even desiring to be involved. To me that is the perfect way to handle the situation.

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      • Are you calling me perfect? Because, I have to tell you, I’d be okay with that. 😉 I’m sorry to hear that you hit someone and are still haunted by that… I can’t imagine the horror of going through something like that… mostly, I don’t want to. Still, it does drive home (honestly, no pun intended) your point. So, again, thank you.

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  3. Ah, what tough spot to be in. You’re a hero, give yourself a pat on the back. Three times I’ve now watched elderly drivers go right through the front of a store. They’ve caused serious injuries and felt really bad about it. Nobody wants to take someone’s license away, but we don’t want them to have to live with the guilt of hurting themselves and other people’ either.

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  4. What if you hadn’t and she ended up killing or maiming someone and you saw it on the news and knew that because you didn’t turn her in that it happened? What we need is better, cheaper, more accessible transportation not people driving who should not be driving. As a survivor who lives with permanent brain damage from an accident caused by a drunk driver… I have to say that I wish wholeheartedly that someone had intervened. 🙂

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  5. She may not have gone through much trouble anyway. I was pulling out of a parking space one time and the bumper of my mini van dragged against the car parked next to me. I reversed direction and looked anxiously at the other car, but didn’t get out to really look around. (I was hugely pregnant and just lazy.). It didn’t look like I’d hurt their car so I drove off. I forgot about the whole thing until I got a police statement in the mail. Someone saw my little oopsie and stayed to give my plate number to the owner of the other car. Apparently a taillight had been damaged.

    I immediately called the investigating officer and explained what I had done and that I hadn’t noticed any damage but that I was very sorry. I gave my insurance information to the officer. Then I called the phone number of the other car’s owner that was listed on the police report. No one answered, so I left a message, apologizing and left my contact information so she could call me back to get my insurance. No one ever contacted me again. The End.

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    • The end?
      Wow! I have basically the same story, but I had to go to court, huge fines, ridiculous insurance premiums, etc.. 8 years later and my insurance still isn’t back down to what it was before that little “oopsie.”

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      • Really? Here in Canada most insurance companies have a first accident free policy. Mind you we are rather forgiving here,

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      • Some companies have that here, too, but definitely not most. And it wasn’t counted as an accident anyway… it was a misdemeanor hit and run. In their system, their underwriters classify it as risky as a dui.

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  6. You did the right thing. I’m an old woman and drive very little anymore for a number of reasons. I limit where I go and when I go. If the day comes that I can no longer go at all safely, I’ve put myself in a position to be able to rely on public transportation or the grace of kind neighbors and family. If I were to ever cause harm to someone or something else, my car would go and that would be it. We are each accountable for our actions. The old woman was wrong to run from what could have been a simple fix. Pay the person for the damage to the car.

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  7. I once followed a car on the freeway through the central valley. They were going from 55 to 90 miles and hour and weaving. They finally pulled over at a restaurant and I called the highway patrol. Long story short she said she was just sleepy and passed drunk tests. I spent an hour and half doing the right thing and nothing came of it.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. When the elderly lose their freedom it is an emotional and humiliating experience. They want to be independent and taking that away is very difficult. Most people do not want to be a burden to anyone else. You DID do the right thing (as others have commented)… but I’m sure it is was still hard knowing the probable, eventual outcome of your actions. On the other hand, she SHOULD have done it herself. I’m certain you saved her and other people. Good job! 🙂

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  9. You absolutely did the right thing. My mother, who didn’t drive much until she was older (brillian, huh?) nearly killed someone. A guy was on a pay phone at a 7-11 when she got into her car and put it into drive instead of reverse. He, thankfully, jumped onto the hood of her car — before running away in terror. She never drove again. The world was safer even if she was inconvenienced.

    So well done. It’s harder to do the right thing when it is painful.

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      • We make it hard DJ because we lie to our selves and don’t want to face the truth. The woman in your story obviously thought her driving was fine and wanted to hold onto that lie. If she had been willing to look objectively at her driving, she would have seen right away that she was no longer competent. Her self-lie caused the difficulty in the situation. We all have a problem with the truth upon occasion – it can be hard. We just don’t realize how much pain our lies cause.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. My grandfather had his 90th birthday in the hospital, after driving his Ford Ranger underneath the back end of a tractor-trailer. Previous to that, he had driven from Fl to MN and came back with both wing mirrors gone and scrapes down both sides of the truck, and no idea how when or why it happened.
    He developed pneumonia in hospital and died a few days after his birthday – I’ve always wondered if he decided it was time because he knew that his freedom was now over. Maybe yes maybe no. But my family should have done the right thing a lot sooner – he could have killed someone and never known it. You did the right thing, and I’m sorry she forced you into it. But it was her, not you, in the wrong.

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  11. In the UK, when a driver gets to 70, they have to reapply for their licence. However there’s no requirement to re-take the driving test, which to me seems a little bonkers. My Gran chose to give up driving the year before she turned 70, so that she could learn to use the public transport, and it coincided with my passing my driving test so I got her car. She was self-aware enough to know that while she was safe on the road, there were certain junctions she didn’t like and wanted to stop driving while she was still capable.

    I once witnessed an accident on the way to work one morning, where a motorbike coming along in the opposite direction to me was hit by a little old lady coming out of a side road – she just didn’t see him at all and pulled out in front of him (and me, but I was further away and in my car). The rider of the bike broke his leg quite badly, and she’d been revving the car so badly that she mounted the kerb on the opposite side of the road and went through a fence. The police officer who spoke to me as the main witness also said that she was incredibly rude with them when they’d got her into the police car, because she wanted to get on with her day and didn’t seem to care that she’d knocked a bloke off his motorbike and broken his leg! She was well over 70, probably in her early 80’s, and I think they did take her licence away from her with a requirement for her to re-take a test before getting her licence back.

    You did the right thing for all the folks involved, but I can understand your feeling incredibly bad about it.

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