COAL: Hooptie Fleet Update — Subaru Marge Gives Her Life For Shane!!

On the very damp and rainy evening of March 8th, we were enjoying a quiet dinner at home with my eldest son and his girlfriend.  In my job, I already respond to my phone and texts like a Pavlovian dog and in order to have some normalcy, especially off hours, I have alerts turned off and chuck it in a corner.  I noticed the phone flashed and ignored it.  A few seconds later the phone rang, it was my youngest, Shane, 19, who calls me approximately never. “Dad, I’ve been in an accident”. These are the words no parents of a teenager want to hear.  You always think something like this cannot happen to you, but it can.

“OK,  are you OK?”, I asked. He confirmed that he was. Shane is a freshman at Michigan State University studying Jazz Performance. He drives a 2002 Subaru Forester (duly named Marge) we bought for the princely sum of $1,050 and set about to make it roadworthy in 2021. My first thought was that it must be some sort of fender bender in East Lansing, a minor mishap up that way.   “Where are you?”, I asked. “I’m on I-75 and I rolled the car”, he replied. Blood started to boil. Anger and fear, mostly fear. It was much worse than we thought. The police arrived on the scene as the call started and we were on speaker with him and the officer, who was absolutely wonderful and calmed us down, and assured us that Shane got himself out of the car and to his eyes, appeared to be OK but he was shaken up and was going to need to go to the ER to get checked out.

We overheard him recounting what had led up to the accident, and he revealed to the officer that he was going 90 miles an hour (!!!!!), entered a long sweeping south-westerly curve and overcorrected and rolled the car. The Subaru has a slightly higher center of gravity, and that, combined with speed and wet conditions, led to the rollover.  By the grace of God, he is extremely lucky that a). he is alive b). he ended up in a center grassy median and did not hit a bridgehead or some other barrier c). no one was with him and d) it was a single car accident. The policeman advised us not to come to the scene, too much traffic. He did not ticket Shane stating the experience was scary enough. They extracted his $5,500 performance tenor sax as well from the wreck and the ambulance left the scene.

Off to the ER, one that was not in the best neighborhood but was the closest level 4 trauma center to the site.  We caught a break in that it wasn’t busy. His suit pants and mud caked clothes were cut off him and per protocol was put in a neck collar.  After a battery of tests, x-rays and CAT scans, the worst of it was spinal compression fractures. He did not have a concussion but some chest soreness from getting thrown around. The staff and attending physician were great and answered all of our questions and he was released, and we brought him home around 1:30 AM the next morning where with pain meds slept the next 12 hours. The lingering question was to the extent of how life-altering his injuries might be.

A few days later, a consult with a spinal surgeon confirmed that despite his injuries, they did not feel that he would need any surgical intervention to address them. Another huge sigh of relief. He now wears a back brace as needed, and it’s slowly healing and he’s feeling better day by day. He recuperated for a week at home before heading back to school.

The towing company sent me pictures of Marge and it was so mangled honestly it’s hard to believe he walked away from this relatively unscathed….and alive. Interestingly, the airbags did not go off. I can surmise that maybe it’s so old that the sensors have corroded and they were no longer functional.  Shane doesn’t remember much about the accident despite being conscious. Marge ended up on its roof, and it almost looked like it cartwheeled hood to hatch many times. The passenger compartment was intact, no glass in the windscreen or doors were broken, and the driver door opened. You always hear about the good safety properties of Subarus, and I can attest to this, and it was honestly, quite impressive.  I ran up to the salvage yard to grab a few things out of the car and took the photos and it made us cringe. I wanted to grab the emblem off the front as a memento of Marge, but it was nowhere to be found.

It goes without saying it was a very irresponsible bit of driving by Shane.  More surprising to us was that he was within 20 minutes of our house, we had no idea.  He was called by some musicians in his network of contacts for a paying gig at an upscale Italian restaurant perhaps 15 minutes away. He was a sub, and they knew he was going to be late and the other fellows were good with whatever time. He also let on he wasn’t planning on telling us he was going to the gig (we would have absolutely gone to hear him play). And he was after a long day, planning on driving the 100 miles back to East Lansing very late at night after the show and not staying the night with us. As anyone with teens or young adults can attest, many things our kids do defy logic and common sense.  Been there, still there sometimes.

We did not want him to have the car at university. He doesn’t need it and weeks go by driving it.  Before we could object, he paid out of his pocket the $200.00 parking permit, thinking he could get to some paying gigs. The gig idea was a total non-starter and never really materialized.  There is regret with us we allowed this to happen, that we didn’t dig our heels and say no.  No good can come out of a 19 year old kid on a major campus with a car, the reality of underage drinking, etc.  My son is not a wild child, but the chance of stupidity is high despite how well you raise your kids.

We never liked his driving prowess.  I was surprised when he passed his test and got his license. But since then, no tickets and no accidents, but I’m sure there were close calls he didn’t tell us about. And…we did notice several times on life 360 him running at high speeds hither and thither. We’ve had talks about this but no key confiscation and maybe that was a mistake. Driving is a privilege, not a right.

Medical Bills are coming in and this is totally uncharted territory for us. The boys were not rough and tumble, breaking bones and such growing up.  I knew subconsciously that here in our state auto insurance is the primary payer of expenses after an accident but  I did not how it works if you have to use it. We’ve done our paperwork, sent the bills (nearing $15K now) to our medical claims adjuster and as of this writing haven’t heard a peep from her. Hoping for the best. The car had no collision insurance so that part cost the insurer nothing. I’m sure despite that, somehow there will be an insurance hit for us in our already very high premium state.

I am sad about Marge, who gave her life for Shane. I feel like we had this car well sorted with solid tires and a new head gasket and at only 78,000 miles, it had tons of life left.  You see lots of old rusty and crusty Foresters here still getting it done for their owners.  Shane will need another ride to get him to his hopefully lucrative summer job.  No rush. We already told him there is absolutely no way he’ll have a car at school moving forward. Plan Free Range Chicken didn’t work out so well for him (or us).   The important thing is our boy is alive and mostly unscathed. The young feel as though they are superhuman and immortal and indestructible.  Been there.  We hope Shane learned his lesson.