On Feb. 15, 2016, with his gold medal in hand, 18-year-old Collin Couture couldn’t wait to tell his parents about the hockey team’s first win at the President’s Day tournament in Pittsburgh. Riding in the back seat next to his sleeping teammate, replaying some of the tough saves in his mind, and killing time on his iPhone, the oldest Richmond Royals goaltender could see the Lucks Lane exit off I-288.
(Photo courtesy of Priscilla Thompson)
Suddenly, he heard his teammate’s mom use “some very colorful language” as she realized the Dodge truck in the other lane had lost control on the dark, icy road. To avoid hitting the side of the truck, she intentionally cut her sedan sharply to the left to make a more angled impact with the car’s front right-hand side and the left side of the truck, sending both vehicles into the muddy highway median.
Collin hopped out of the car to check on the other driver while his teammate stayed with his mom, “who suffered a nasty broken arm from the collision…We tried (but not very successfully) to use the snow to slow down the swelling. We then waited until the ambulance showed up” at about the same time that his teammate’s dad arrived on the accident scene.
Meanwhile, according to a local news report, Donald Graves skidded on some black ice, but he was able to stop safely on the highway shoulder. After he checked on the accident victims and set up safely flares, he drove home. Mr. Graves said he was one of the last people to talk with the driver of the Dodge truck.
Once the ambulance took the injured mom to the hospital, Collin helped move luggage from the wrecked sedan to the dad’s car. He was asked by Virginia State Police trooper J.T. Glasscock to complete an accident form because he was the older of the two teenagers.
“I didn’t even get to finish writing my full legal name until I heard someone yell, Car!’ I then pivoted on my left leg towards the inside of the median. Before I was done pivoting (I completed about a quarter arc.), I was hit by the car.
“The point of impact is still unknown, but I believe it to be my lower left side, not quite the back, not quite the front. I am reported to have been thrown 10 yards horizontal, almost making it to the other highway. I was the third of three to get hit, with the order being [Chester resident Sharon] Letender, Officer Glasscock and myself, and the order of severity in injuries is also the exact same, with the first now deceased.
View the NBC 12 news report here: http://www.nbc12.com/story/31226826/state-police-1-dead-several-injured-including-trooper-and-firefighter-after-288-crash
“After the impact and I hit the ground, I immediately had 2 thoughts: 1, wow, that really hurt (Well, that’s not exactly what I said, haha.), and 2, is everyone else okay? I tried to get up to check on everyone else (which that hurt. A lot. Like. A lot lot.). I heard paramedics yelling at me to stay down. It wasn’t until later that day I heard about the lady’s death, because from where I was lying, I couldn’t see anyone else.”
Trooper Glasscock, who served in overseas military operations and nearly two decades in the National Guard, later told local reporters that he came within about an inch of being paralyzed for life.
“I haven’t seen the police report yet, but it is believed [the driver of the car that hit Collin] lost control due to an ice patch with speed being a factor. Given that it is believed that he hit us at 55+ mph after sliding through dirt, it is believed he was going 75+. Again this is what I’ve heard; I have yet to see the police report.”
Collin said his injuries include whiplash, road rash on the entire left side of his face, bruises on his left arm, lower back and side and right leg, and soreness and stiffness in his lower back and chest (diagnosed as a tightened diaphragm).
After this tragic and completely preventable accident, Collin has a strong message, not to just young, inexperienced drivers or those who’ve been driving for years, but to everyone:
“It’s not worth it to get home 5 minutes earlier. What may seem like a harmless thing to one can mean a lot to another. You may think to yourself, I know how to drive, and I don’t need to worry about it. And that may be true. But no one is perfect, and no one can predict everything,” Collin said.
Enacted in 2002, Virginia’s move-over law requires drivers “to yield right-of-way or reduce speed when approaching stationary emergency vehicles on highways” with penalties that range from a Class 1 misdemeanor to a suspended license for two years plus any other court orders.
Unfortunately, this is another example when bystanders and first responders have suffered serious injuries. Brad Hughes lost both legs in 2014 when he was hit by a car while helping officers at a highway accident. Hughes wants harsher penalties for drivers who don’t move over when approaching highway accidents.
Collin’s message is as on point as his saves between the pipes. “To not obey the move-over law is not only illegal, but idiotic. It is an unnecessary risk to someone else’s life and your future. I can tell you right now, for the man who hit me and the others, not a day goes by he doesn’t regret what he did. It’s unfortunate, but he could have avoided everything he has done and is going through if he had followed a simple law. There are reasons laws are in place.”
(This article reflects only the opinion of the author.)