Wrong Place, Wrong Time

As the details of the tragic crash continued to emerge, one thing became very clear: Nick Adenhart and his friends had the terrible misfortune to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. They weren't doing anything wrong, just driving through an intersection with the green light, and then a drunk driver blows through the red light at 50-60 mile per hour and broadsides their car.

How unlucky do you have to be to have something like that happen? Very, very unlucky. You have to be in the exact wrong place at the exact wrong time. I don't know how fast Courtney Stewart, the driver of the Mitsubishi that Adenhart was riding in, was going, but for an intersection like that, probably about 45 miles per hour. That's 66 feet per second. Had they gone through the intersection one second earlier, the minivan would have screamed through behind them. Had they gone through a second later, the minivan would have roared in front of them, causing nothing worse than panic braking and a blaring horn. Even a fraction of a section could have made a big difference, since it only takes about a third of a second for a car to make it across a lane of the road. But in this case, the minivan broadsided the passenger side of the car.

And so, for those who they left behind, the what ifs start: The postgame interviewer might wonder, "What would have happened if I'd asked him just one more question?" What if he'd taken a slightly longer or shorter shower after the game? What might have happened if any of the four friends had been delayed by even so much as a minute? What if the driver had been a little faster (or a little slower) coming off the last light? When the margin of life and death is fractions of a second, they all count. The tragedy is not knowing in advance when it would be a good time to keep a friend talking with you just a little longer before they head out.

I know what this is like. When my brother Karl and his girlfriend Monika were down here visiting three years ago, they got in a car wreck on US 41 the night before they were to fly back to New York. I'd been with them that afternoon, and I'd suggested that we could go to the dog track in Bonita Springs. They decided to go to the beach instead. Their injuries were comparatively minor given that the car was totaled (Karl had a broken collarbone and Monika had a broken foot), but they were still very traumatic to them. And I wondered for a long time afterward how things might have been different if I'd persisted a bit more with the dog track idea. I'm sure that there are a lot of people who knew Nick Adenhart and his friends who are wondering what they might have done differently that could have avoided their doomed night out.