Last year my husband and I went on a little adventure. An old clinic in our town had closed and had been selling off tons of old furniture, books, and other miscellaneous items for a few months. They had finally closed down the rummage shop and put the last vestiges of stuff out on the curb for free.
So, we went dumpster diving and found something terrifying.
In the drawer of an old desk, we found about thirty pages of typewritten material. A quick glance showed that it was a police report and an autopsy report from 1985. For the sake of historical interest, we took it home to examine.
It took a few minutes to discover that they were for the same incident: a car crash involving a 35-year-old man and a car full of teens on April 19, 1985. On that day, the Soviet Union performed a test of nuclear weapons in Kazakhstan, Venezuela celebrated its independence day, and the space shuttle Discovery 4 returned to Earth.
Edward Lepak was traveling east on Carbon Canyon Road in Orange County, California. He was alone in the car. In the other vehicle was driver Martin Lawrence Haag, a seventeen-year-old boy, who had borrowed his mom, Claudia's, car for a night out with his friends, fifteen-year-olds Randall and Ericka and fourteen-year-olds Susan and Pamela.
It was a foggy night on a road that had no streetlights. At 10:50 pm, Lepak crossed the double yellow line and collided with the teens head on. Both cars were driving about the speed limit of 50 MPH. Martin was killed on impact and not taken to a hospital. His friends' injuries were not detailed in the report, but for all of them the box "Severe Injury" was checked, and Pamela was air-lifted from the scene. None were lucid or able to give a report. Martin died as the car collapsed around him, crushing him between the seat and the steering wheel. The other passengers survived the initial damage because they were thrown out of the car, a Dodge convertible.
I do not know if the teens survived. Archive research and Googling found no information on them. I do, however, know a good amount about Lepak.
I can tell you that his heart weighed 420 grams, his left lung 290 grams, and his right lung 320 grams. I can tell you many other things, such as the colors of his internal tissues, and the terrifying fact that upon impact his testicles ruptured from the pressure of internal hemorrhaging. By now, you've likely and accurately surmised that he was drunk. A witness of the crash, driving behind the car, said he knew Lepak was drunk when he observed him proceed several times into the opposite lane with all four wheels.
For an unclear reason, he was not declared dead at the scene, and an ambulance rushed him to a nearby hospital, where he was ruled DOA, or "Dead on Arrival." He was then turned over to the coroner. Except for the coroner's report and the accident report, I know nothing about this man. I do not know if he was an alcoholic, or if this was his first time drinking. I do not know if he had any children or a wife or a girlfriend. I don't know what his job was. I don't know what made him laugh. I found no record or newspaper story or obituary for him on the internet. I don't even know what a report from California was doing in the Midwest.
He left behind this legacy for someone to find, that on April 19th, 1985, he struck a car full of teens, killing at least one of them.
Now, anyone who has gotten a driver's license has undoubtedly heard many stories about drunk driving and how dangerous it is. I certainly have. But nothing has ever hit me as much as this coroner's report, particularly one of the last lines: "The tongue is unremarkable." Why this line? I don't know. Perhaps because when I think of all the ways, positive or negative, someone could describe me, the words I never imagine being used are "The tongue is unremarkable." Although, that is true. I'm reasonably sure there is nothing special about my tongue. It was there that I formed a connection with this man. I could be remembered by a few lines like that. Years from now, could someone be reading a report about me with some similar words?
I don't know. I don't know where my body will end up, or how I will die, any more than Edward Lepak did. But I can tell you one thing for certain: I will do everything I can to make sure I will not be remembered only for hitting a car full of teens and having an unremarkable tongue.