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J.R. Buchanan

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The accident

I was 19 years old, driving my first car, a 1969 Dodge Dart north on Franklin on the northeast side of Indianapolis. I was stopped at the Pendleton Pike intersection, headed north.

My friend, T--, was sitting in the passenger seat, with no seat belt on. I was wearing my seatbelt.

There was a big van in the lane to the left of me, blocking my view to the left. My view was further hampered by the fact that Pendleton Pike runs at an angle to Franklin, as it runs from the southwest to the northeast.

The light turned green, and I accelerated into the intersection, then woke up with blood and glass shards all over the left side of my head.

I was pretty groggy, and without thinking , climbed out of the car, just as a bunch of witnesses came running up yelling for me not to move.

T-- came to about this point and climbed out of the car on my side.

The entire front of the car from the front of the doors was torn up and skewed at an angle.

It probably took a while, but in the stupor I was in, it seemed like an ambulance showed up right away. They wanted us to go to the hospital, but T-- and I refused. Stupid, my head had hit the window pretty hard and broken it. Tim was in worse shape, with neck pain and a shoulder that hurt badly. He probably had a head injury as well, but I don't remember. I suppose our judgment wasn't very good at that point in time.

Soon our parents showed up, I don't remember how they were contacted.

I was getting more in touch with reality and asked the cop who was interviewing witnesses what had happened. It turns out that he had been a witness as well.

He said that a fellow driving an old Oldsmobile Toranado had run the red light at eighty to ninety mph. He hit us just in front of the firewall. Another witness told me that the car was knocked up in the air and spun on the corner of the bumper like a top. It was luck that we landed right side up.

Amazingly, the other driver was not hurt, and the Olds was still drivable -sort of. So he tried to make it a hit and run. He only made it a few miles, when it stopped running. He tried to make a staggering getaway on foot, but was caught. I was still pretty out of it then, so I don't know who caught him, probably another nearby cop.

He was brought back to the scene of the accident, where we discovered just how drunk he was. My father was amazed that they weren't going to take him to jail, but one of the cops pointed out that with his record, he would be locked up for some time, whereas if he was not taken to jail, he'd have a chance of paying for my car. He had no insurance, of course.

How things have changed. I can't even imagine someone being let go for such a reason today.

Well, naturally he refused to pay for the car. So we took him to small claims court. With the police officer as a witness, it was an easy victory.

But then I learned something important about the value of used cars. It's always a lot less than you can actually buy such a used car for. A replacement car of similar vintage and condition would have cost about $900 at that time. the judge awarded me $400. Not good.

Even worse. He didn't have the money. He arranged with the court to pay $5.00 a week. So not only was I short $500, I was essentially short all of the money, as it would take 20 months to get the money from him.

It just got worse from there. He made a few payments and then stopped. He couldn't be located.

My mother made some phone calls and located him in Texas. She should be a detective. But it didn't help, the police had a lot better things to do than follow up on something as trivial as this.

Some months later, I got lucky! He reconciled with his estranged wife and moved back to Indianapolis. He started making payments again. It still seemed to take forever to get the money, but it was all received.