Perils of Moving

Diane got a job offer for the Avida-ED programmer position at Michigan State University. We’ve gone through the various things that happen in a job transition, leaving the old job, getting a sale contract on our Palmetto home and land, packing and sorting our belongings, and preparing for the move itself. I had even set up a GoFundMe campaign to allow people to donate to help us defray expenses of a PODS container, as the Avida-ED project doesn’t have relocation assistance in its budget. Things always seem to take longer than one would like, and we finally had closed up our (nearly) empty house and gotten on the road a bit after 3 PM on Wednesday, April 22nd.

We were in two vehicles. Diane was driving our Ford E-350 van, towing a Desert Fox 21′ camper. I was in our Chevy Silverado pickup towing a gooseneck horse trailer. While the PODS container had the bulk of our stuff, we had put the things we thought we would want immediate access to in the Desert Fox: clothes, tools, kitchen gear, office papers (including tax returns and our important documents), our TV, and a chunk of our computing gear, among other things. The horse trailer we were using in order to keep the level of things in the Desert Fox low enough that we could lower the bed for access and sleeping along the way, so it had many of the things we packed at the last minute. I had also used the rear seat in the Chevy to put our medicines, the server box, my suitcases, most of my travel set of camera gear, and my work and personal laptops. I had Beka, our mini-dachshund, with me in the Chevy. Diane had Ritka and Kenna, our Vizslas, and Rusty, our Harris’s hawk, with her in the van.

We planned to get to Gainesville and have dinner, meeting with a trainer who would take Kenna for hunting dog training for at least a couple of months. (One of the annoyances of moving is the relative unavailability of short-term rental housing, and beyond that of a rental that will accept a family including three dogs.)

But at 3:30 PM at mile marker 235 on northbound I-75, things changed in a moment. That point is around a dozen miles from our former home. The following is just my recollection of things, and I know that memory under stress can be faulty. Diane was ahead of me, having made a light on US 41 that I was held up at. I was traveling less than the posted speed limit and catching up to Diane, but still somewhere between a half mile and a mile behind her when I noticed that the Desert Fox had started fishtailing. It only took a couple of oscillations before the trailer’s wheels slipped off the shoulder and the whole rig rolled over, with the trailer compacting and disintegrating on impact. This is not anything that you want to even think about a loved one being near, much less in. I was in the middle lane and managed to quickly get over to the shoulder and came to a stop about a hundred yards back from the wreck. A couple of truckers had already stopped to render assistance, and the biggest relief of my life was when I approached the wreck and found the van was upright and Diane was visible talking through the empty spot where the driver’s side window used to be to one of those truckers. She was obviously rattled and had some cuts on her right hand, but she was certainly responsive. She told me that a semi rig going much faster than she was had nearly sideswiped her and that was what caused the trailer to fishtail. (The summary: Diane has bruising and soreness, some cuts, and some glass splinters embedded in her skin. Kenna has a broken toe in the right hind foot and an abrasion on her left cheek. Ritka and Rusty seem to be OK here from more than a day later.)

The trucker who had stopped had experience as a firefighter, and was looking to open Diane’s door to get her out, but she refused since the dogs did not have leashes on. He was concerned about the propane tanks from the trailer and the gas in the van. I ran to get leashes from the truck and got back, and Diane passed Kenna and then Ritka to me through the window after leashing each of them. I took the dogs to the horse trailer and got them in the weekender compartment, leaving it with just the screen door closed. I got windows open in truck, grabbed a camera, and headed back to the wreck. I checked on Rusty, who was traveling in a crate. Through the broken-out window on the passenger side I could see that the crate appeared intact and suspended from a bungee cord we had used to keep it in place in the van. Diane tried the unlock function, but the passenger doors were stuck. Diane tried getting me the crate, but I couldn’t fit it through the driver’s side door, even with the seat laid back. A couple of the first responders determined that the back doors did open, and Rusty’s crate got out of the van that way with their assistance. I carried Rusty’s crate back to the horse trailer and set her down in the shade outside.

On getting back to the wreck, I think it was about that time when a Hillsborough County Sheriff came on the scene. According the the report, that would be about 3:48 PM. At this point, paperwork started to be involved. I went in the driver’s side door of the van just far enough to clear out the console map drawer where we kept registration and other paperwork. A small ice chest whose lid and contents had disappeared was handy, so I just loaded all of it into that as a way to carry it. The officer was asking Diane about her condition and indicated EMTs would be out to evaluate her. He did want the vehicle registration. I don’t know what system other people use, but ours has typically been sedimentary: successive years of registration get added to the pile. So we located first a registration that expired in 2012, then one from 2014, and finally found the current one. Diane had recovered her purse and was able to provide her driver’s license and proof of insurance.

I’m a bit uncertain about the order of events after that. I know Diane tried to back up the van a little to release tension on the trailer chains, which wasn’t successful. The EMTs turned up and asked Diane about her condition. She told them of pain from a bump to the head, soreness, and the cuts to her right hand. She asked me to check her head for cuts, but I didn’t find any. The EMTs took Diane into the ambulance for further evaluation. I called my father to let him know that we needed help. (He says his phone puts my incoming call at 3:52 PM.) He said he would come on out. I took some photos. I called our auto insurance and explained that we needed help recovering things. Apparently that isn’t in our coverage, nor had we gotten rental vehicle coverage. The agent did remind me of the deductible. Diane came out of the ambulance. She had refused an offer to take her to a hospital, which she later said she did to keep me from being stuck on my own to deal with everything. The one thing she complained of was that her glasses were missing. Someone said they thought had seen them and looked in the van around the driver’s seat. He came up with Diane’s glasses and she thanked him for finding them.

The Florida Highway Patrol took over from the Sheriff, and Diane was engaged in discussion with them. A tow vehicle turned up to move the van. I started to pull things from the periphery further away from the wreck. Somewhere in there I went back to the truck and horse trailer and shifted things out of the truck cab so I could put all the dogs and Rusty in it with the windows open. Diane had fixed a water dish for the dogs in the weekender, and I shifted that to the back seat of the truck. Later, I took Rusty’s crate back out and set it in the shade outside again.

My sister called to say that she had gone by the wreck as she was going south. Then she found out that another accident had completely closed I-75 northbound, delaying her arrival. I think that call was at 4:58 PM.

The towing company brought out an open-topped container for the trailer wreckage. They had a crane and either a couple of Bobcat skid-steer units or at least multiple front-end implements, including a loader and a jawed grapple. Their goal was to expeditiously remove the stuff from the roadside. Our goal became how to get the most stuff without interfering with them.

I will continue this account as I get time. In the meantime, if people would like to help, please get in touch, or use the PayPal donation button on the top right, or the GoFundMe campaign. Right now, it is early morning of the 24th, and we are looking to interact with the towing company to see about getting any more of our effects from the stuff that they towed off.

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Wesley R. Elsberry

Falconer. Interdisciplinary researcher: biology and computer science. Photographer. Husband. Christian. Activist.

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