I have said it before, we are never alone and God is involved in the details of our lives. I am going to tell a story that for me is still unfolding. However, it is apparent that there are no real accidents.
A dear friend of mine was having a surprise birthday party for his 50th. He lives in Heber City, Utah with his wife and two adorable children. His wife had messaged me on Facebook and asked if I would be attending, the party would be 6:00 on a Saturday. After some thought and a look at my calendar I told her I would love to be there.
I had planned on driving up on Saturday morning; attend the party and then drive back on Sunday. Sometime during the week I had the thought it would be a good idea to go up on Friday. I had a few things I have always wanted to do in Salt Lake and if I went up on Friday I could do those things on Saturday before the party. So, I decided I would go up Friday night. On Friday my day was going great, I got done at work just a bit early and thought this was good I could leave a little early and head up. I got home and started to pack a few things for the trip. The wind that day was horrible; it was gusting 40-60 mph and was just relentless. I had this feeling that I needed to go into the back yard and do some weeding. I thought to myself, are you kidding? Weeding? I am leaving early and headed for a great weekend. However, the feeling persisted so I got my hoe and rake and headed to the back yard. I hoed about ½ of the yard and raked it up. I had a feeling that was enough and I can go. I cleaned up got in my truck and headed out on my trip.
As I got close to St George UT I was going to stop, top off the tank grab a drink and then head on to Salt Lake. I had this feeling come over me, “you really don’t need gas, you really don’t need another drink, you can make it to Cedar, just go on to Cedar City”. It seemed reasonable so I passed through St George and headed to Cedar City.
About 10 miles south of Cedar City I was driving in the right lane of the freeway. The speed limit was 80 mph. Very uncharacteristically of me, I was in the right lane doing 80 with my cruise control set. For those who know me, know I wouldn’t normally be doing just the speed limit. But I was very content with driving the speed limit and just enjoying the drive. I noticed a couple on a Hayley Davidson motorcycle start to pass me in the left lane of the freeway. They both looked happy. I remember thinking, look how happy they are, Trish and I in a few months are going to be empty nesters and I hope we can find something together that is that much fun for us. They continued past me, about 100 yards in front of me the man began to change lanes into the right lane of the freeway. Just as he did that a powerful gust of wind hit them, the bike began to wobble back and forth, known in the bike world as the death wobble. It was clear they were going to crash, then the bike got close to the edge of the side of the freeway and the front tire turned all the way right and it just stuck into the ground. The couple and the motorcycle simply catapulted into the air at least 20 feet. I could not believe what I was seeing. The man and women were tumbling in the air head over heals over and over; the bike was doing the same. I saw all three of them hit the grassy area on the side of the freeway. It was sloped and grassy.
I slammed on my breaks and pulled over. When my truck stopped I could see the man was directly to my right, the bike had hit the grass and was standing straight up like it was sitting on the kickstand. The woman was a bit further down and closer up the grassy hill, closer to the freeway. I jumped out of the truck and started to dial 911. I ran to the man because he was the closest to me. I could see he was hurt bad. He was bleeding from his face as the left side of his face had been damaged very badly. I felt his neck for a pulse, I thought I felt a week pulse but couldn’t tell if it was him or my fingers, it was all happening so fast. I ran to the woman (his wife) and I could see she had at least a fractured leg. She was unconscious at the time but I could see she was breathing. Just as I leaned over to check on her she woke up and tried to sit up. I gently pushed her back down and told her, “Ma-am you have been in a terrible accident and you have a broken leg, I need you to lay down and not move” She passed out, but I could tell she was breathing.
I ran back to the man and began to feel for a pulse. The 911 operator kept asking me if I could feel a pulse. I told her I thought I did but I couldn’t be sure. I felt his neck, his wrist, I listened to his chest. The wind was howling and cars kept driving by, no one would stop, I was all alone. She told me to start CPR. I tried to explain to her that I couldn’t. His face was in a way that I could not blow into his mouth to get air into it. I was kneeling by him and I tried to think of any way I possibly could but it wasn’t gonna happen. As I was feeling for his pulse it felt to me that his neck was broken. About that time I saw a Trooper in an unmarked truck pull up. He had seen the accident in his rear view mirror and turned around and drove back down the side of the road against on-coming traffic. I told the 911 operator that a trooper was there and I needed to let her go and I hung up. I explained the situation to the Trooper. I told him I thought the man was dead. I asked him to check for a pulse just to make sure, he did, and he felt nothing. I told him the woman was alive but had at least a broken leg. He ran to her and began talking on the radio. I could hear him giving directions; he called for a life flight helicopter. Soon another Trooper showed up, he and the other Trooper tended to the woman and called in more info on their radios.
I just knelt next to him; I then put my hands on his head and gave him a Priesthood blessing. However, it was made very clear to me that he was not coming back and that it was his time, he was dead.
I took his left hand and I just held it. I put my hand on his chest and just rubbed it. I looked in his wallet and found out his name. I also learned that he was an off duty Sheriff’s Deputy from a county in central Utah. As I knelt there, I brushed the dirt and the grass off of him. I straightened his legs made him look as comfortable as I could. I looked directly above his head as if he were standing right there. I spoke to him out loud and said, “I am so sorry you died today. I am so sorry this happened to you. I am so sorry for your family and what they are about to go through. I promise you, I am not going to leave you.” I felt compelled to just stay next to this man. The first Trooper that came, walked up to me and knelt down beside me, he asked if I were ok? I am sure it seemed odd that I was just kneeling there holding this mans hand. I told him that I was fine. I explained that almost 8 months ago I had lost my youngest son who was 20 in a motorcycle accident. He gently said; “I am sure this can’t be easy” I smiled. The truth was, it wasn’t hard at the time. I felt a great since of calm, I was supposed to be right there and I wasn’t moving.
The paramedics finally came. They came over to the man and asked me for an update. I told him that he was dead. They needed to verify so they pulled up his shirt and put some EKG wires on his chest. They turned on the machine and within a few seconds looked at me and said, “Yes Sir he is dead”. They then pronounced the time of death. They quickly moved on to work on the wife. I asked one of the paramedics if they could get me a sheet so I could cover him up to his chest. I was worried about his wife looking over and seeing only me kneeling next to him and upsetting her. They brought me one and I covered him up to his chest. The freeway was shut down and the Life Flight Helicopter was trying to land in the horrible wind. They finally were able to land in the middle of the freeway. After they loaded the wife in the helicopter, I pulled the sheet up over his head and tucked it in all around him. I just knelt there and held that mans hand. I had no concept of time. After later recreating the accident I realized I had been kneeling next to him for almost an hour and half. One of the Troopers came to me and explained that he would need me to right a statement. I of course agreed. By that time there were other Troopers there and I knew the man would not be alone. After I wrote my statement I got out of the truck and walked up to two Troopers and gave them my statement. One looked at me and told me that he had heard about me losing my son and he was so sorry. He had tears in his eyes and he went on to tell me that he knew this man. He told me that the mans father was a retired Utah Trooper and he had worked with him. I told him how sorry I was for him and for all of them. My heart was just breaking.
He said I didn’t have to leave, but that I had done more than enough and that if I wanted to I could leave. I made sure the sheet was secure and that he wouldn’t be alone and I got in my truck and drove off. I noticed I had blood on my hand and it had begun to become sticky. I needed to wash my hands. I stopped at a TA Travel gas stop. I went in and washed my hands, got a cool drink and filled up my tank. As I was walking around and gassing up, I kept looking at people and thinking, you have no idea what just happened, you have no idea what I just saw. Those feelings from David’s death came racing back to me. I text my wife and asked her to call me when she had a chance, I also text my friend Mike Gardner. They both called back and I was able to talk to both of them. That was a good thing; I needed them both more than they would ever know.
Before leaving Las Vegas I had called our middle Son Zach who attends BYU-Idaho. I told him I was coming up and if he wanted to drive down and meet me. I would get a hotel in Salt Lake and we could spend Saturday together. He said he would love to. So as I drove away, I was grateful that Zach would be with me that night.
I had the chance to do a lot of thinking by myself on the remainder of that drive. I thought about all the things that had to take place to put me in that exact place at the exact time. The man died in a motorcycle accident, my David had died in a motorcycle accident. He was a Sheriff’s Deputy; I had been a Sheriff’s Deputy. A man was with David and held his hands when he died; I was with this man holding his hands when he died. I thought about all it took to get me to that place at that exact time. Simply a miracle!
As I was driving I thought I should some how try to get in touch with his parents. However, I had no idea where they lived or how this could even happen. I tucked that thought away, but it never left.
Zach and I had a great time together Saturday. We drove up to Heber City and with other friends and family surprised my friend. Another interesting bit of information I learned was that the man had just turned 50. His birthday was the day before he died. He was 50 and I was heading to my friends 50th birthday party. While at the party I saw an old friend from Nashville I had not seen in years. I was telling him the story and how I felt like I wanted to somehow visit the Mom and Dad. He looked at me and said he thought he knew the family. He walked out to the garage and made a phone call. He came back in and told me he had gotten the address to the Mom and Dad and immediately text it to me. I just stood there stunned. Again, what are the chances of all the people he could know he would know this family and be able to get me their address.
The next morning Zach and I had breakfast together in the Hotel, said goodbye and he headed for Idaho and I set my GPS for Delta Utah. As I drove the 2-3 hours to get there, I thought I might be nervous. But I wasn’t, I was calm.
When I arrived at their home, they were standing outside on the front walk way. They were talking to some friends who had come by to deliver them some things. I stood on the sidewalk and politely waited until they were done talking and the other folks had left. I walked up to the man and asked him if he was Mr _______. He said he was. I said “Mr ________ my name is Greg Maples, I was the first one on the scene of your sons accident and I was with him when he died”. He was a big man, 6’4” and every bit a Trooper. He looked down and said, “You were?” Yes sir I was and I thought I would come by and talk with you. His wife came off the steps and said, “You were with my son when he died?” I told her I was and they invited me in. They lived in a modest but nice home. We sat in the living room together. I told them who I was and I told them about our Son David and how he was killed. I told them I would like to tell them the story of the accident. I explained that I could tell them all they wanted to know, or as little as they wanted to know. I started telling the story exactly as I have told it here. After a minute the Father began to cry. He said he had not cried since they got the news. However, he had only two questions that he wanted answered and no one could answer them for him. He had asked the Troopers and the other Sheriff’s deputies but none of them could tell him because they weren’t there. The two questions were, did my son die alone? And did my son suffer? He said you have come and answered both those questions. I was able to look him in his eyes and tell him: Sir your son was never conscience, he didn’t suffer at all and he was never alone, I never left his side. The emotion for me was palpable, this was a sacred moment. A few minutes later a Brother of the man killed pulled up and came in. He was a master driller, a good size man and looked tough. His Father told him who I was and that he should listen to me. As I told the story he began to cry. He said he had just been talking to his wife on the phone and told her he had two questions that he just had to have answered. Did his brother suffer and was he alone. Once again I was able to look him in the eyes and tell him. It was another sacred moment for me.
The sweet Mother leaned close and asked me, “Mr Maples does it ever get easier?” With all the compassion I could muster, I told her No it doesn’t. However, you will learn to live with it, you’ll learn to get by and move forward. However, the pain is always there.
I gave them some advice, I told them that people would come to them and they would say things like…he’s in a better place, God has a plan, it was his time. I told them that is not what you want to hear and you will want to scream back at them, the better place is with you, it wasn’t your plan, it wasn’t your timing. However, they don’t mean anything bad by it. They are simply saying the only thing they know to say. Be patient with them, they love you and they mean well. Don’t let it bother you; don’t let it make you angry. I also told them that in a week or two everyone will leave and they will be left to themselves. It’s not fair but that’s the way it has to be. I told them what my good friend Mike Gardner told me, the world is cruel, it just keeps turning it doesn’t stop. You’re going to want to scream for everything and everyone to just slow down so you can catch your breath, but it and they won’t. It’s cruel and it simply stinks. I know I lived and still live it.
I learned that the woman had a broken neck and several broken bones. She had already had four surgeries and two of them that very day. She had a long road ahead of her. She was a schoolteacher and he was a Sheriff’s Deputy.
I got up hugged the Brother and the Mother. Then I hugged the Dad, I thought he was going to squeeze the soul out of me and it felt good. I loved that man. I didn’t know him, but I knew more about him in that moment than most of his family and friends ever will. I loved him. We said goodbye and I started my trip home. I drove in silence just thinking about all that had happened. I learned that he was a former Marine and I was a former Marine. I just couldn’t stop thinking about all that had happened and how it unfolded. I knew I was going to be different for this experience for the rest of my life.
I know that God is involved in the details or our lives. He loved this family enough to make all of this come together for them. I am sure there is something in it for me; I am still pondering what that might be. I know this week, I felt heavy and sad. I see the unmistakable hand of the Lord in its every detail, but I still feel sad and heavy. A few sleepless nights, but I am listening and trying to understand what else I am supposed to learn. I do know this, I love the Lord and recognize how incredibly blessed I am in my life.
Life is good, and I am very grateful.