The Story of Dad's Head-On Collision South of Ralls in 1973
An Ambulance vs. A Buick Towing A Boat
Growing up, whenever my dad went shirtless, my siblings and I would huddle up, stand there, and just stare. We couldn’t help it. We had to look and examine his ugly, fascinating scar. It was right over his belly and looked like the healed tissue of someone gutted with a Bowie knife, in a vicious and jagged line, from three inches above to three inches below his belly button.
How could a seat belt do that?
Some three years before he drove my mother to Lockney General Hospital to give birth to me, my dad had a terrible accident—on that same highway, a few miles south of Ralls. He was a passenger in an ambulance wagon—one that looked exactly like the ‘Ectomobile’ in Ghostbusters. A ‘71 Chevrolet. But it wasn’t exactly a hospital ambulance. It was a ‘funeral ambulance.’ My dad, at age 18, worked as an assistant at a funeral home, and got pegged to ride along for an emergency duty. When medical transports were in short supply, funeral homes were called in to transport the injured … or the dead.
My grandfather, over tears, told me he thought it was just cleaning work. He could barely live with himself for helping him get that job. He didn’t know it was a funeral home, and he didn’t know that they did that kind of work as well.
My dad and the driver, Allen Adams, 28, were heading to the scene several miles south of town. A farm worker, a father of 18 kids, had just accidentally killed his 2-year-old child. He had driven a tractor home to have lunch, and while he was inside, his child, who was outside, got ‘sleepy,’ and walked under the tractor to take a nap. After lunch, the father got in his tractor and started it up. According to the report, the child was killed instantly.
My dad and Allen were on their way.
Traveling northbound on Texas Highway 207, a family in a ‘69 Buick, towing a boat, was headed back home to Silverton from an end-of-school trip to Lake Travis in Austin. Danny Scott Hutsell, 16, was driving, with his cousin in the front seat. Danny’s mother and 18-year-old brother were in the back. Hutsell’s father was driving behind them in another vehicle towing a trailer-home.
He watched his son’s vehicle crash and burst into flames.
The wrecker at the scene, who towed one of the vehicles after the collision, later said, they “couldn’t have hit more head on if they had tried.” It was May 25, 1973.
My dad’s ambulance was driving southbound on 207 when they collided with Hutsell’s Buick. The boat slammed into the rear, hit the ambulance windshield, and “hurdled over” the car and flew 40 feet.
Danny had a fractured skull, his mother a broken pelvis, and his cousin and brother suffered broken vertebrae.
Allen was in ICU with head injuries, and my dad was listed as injured with a “chipped vertebrae.” They were both wearing seat belts.
But the chrome seat belt buckle that saved my dad’s life also gutted his stomach ... eventually rupturing his appendix, spilling bile and fluid into his blood. He lay in the hospital with gray skin and yellow eyes as my grandfather desperately prayed over him for his recovery. It took him 10 days and 10 nights in the hospital to heal. But the doctor told my grandfather he wouldn’t walk.
My grandfather, a Southern Baptist preacher, told me he made a bargain with God over my dad’s hospital bed. My dad survived. But he also believes my dad’s short life (he died at age 50), was also a part of that bargain, if I remember correctly. I never talked to my dad about it before he passed away.
Instead, I read about it in the paper, while researching for an essay I was writing for Texas Highways ... (story coming soon)