A Tragedy in New Orleans

The time was 6:47PM. I knew that, because I had just checked my cellphone to see how long my roommate, Andy Ke, and I had to get to the stadium for the big game. We squeeze in together with half a dozen other people under neath a small canopy to try to avoid the heavy rain. The canopy is at the entrance of Mother’s Restaurant, a famous New Orleans creole restaurant where we had just had bread pudding.

Andy and I were waiting for a break in the rain while the others with us waved for taxis with no luck. Everyone shouted between passing taxis about who was going to win the NCAA men’s basketball championship, but I barely hear them over the downpour. I cannot make out details in the heavy rain and lightning flashes. That’s why I heard it before I saw it right in front of me: A loud thump followed by the screeching tires.

Twenty feet away, directly in front of me, a red taxi had screeched to a stop after running into a woman who was in the street. The thump was the sound of its bumper slamming into a woman’s knees. Now focused, I saw the rest of the horrific scene. A second thump, and her hips hit the hood of the cab. A third as her head swung down into the windshield. Now she was airborne, nearly flip over the roof, but instead falling onto the hood and rolling off its side.

The accident couldn’t have lasted more than three seconds, but in the moment, time stopped. Every detail was burned into my mind. The woman’s red umbrella floating into the air from her hand. Her brown hair whipping in the wind as her body flipped over the hood of the cab. The sudden silence that fell on the crowd I was in. It wasn’t until the woman hit the street and screamed that time seemed to return to normal, and everyone realized what had happened.

“Oh shit!” Andy shouted.

“Someone call 911, quick!” a woman cried.

Immediately, I pull out my phone and dial 911. A young man from across the street ran over to the accident while I put the phone up to my ear. I don’t even remember it ringing a single time before the operator answered.

“This is 911 emergency dispatch,” a woman says. She is barely audible over the pouring rain. “What is the nature of your emergency.”

“We’ve just witnessed an accident!” I shouted into my phone, making sure she can hear me over the rain.

“Okay, sir. Where are you right now?” she asked.

It takes me a second to understand what she’s asking. I look up to the corner of where we’re perched under the canopy, but can’t read the names through the rain. I pushed out of the small crowd to the corner and looked up at the signs.

“We’re at the corner of Poydras and uh… To… Choo… Choopeetwas,” I shouted. “I think!” I sounded out the word as best I could, but Tchupitoulas wasn’t a familiar name to me. “I can’t pronounce it!” I shouted quickly. “We’re right outside of Mother’s Restaurant down town!”

As I was trying to explain my location, I saw the taxi creeping forward. Several people leapt out in front of it, screaming, “She’ll die if you move!”

“Okay sir, is this where the accident happened?” the operator asked calmly.

“Yes!” I said. I was still watching the people in front of the taxi as I answered.

“Can you explain what happened?” she asked.

“Yes, the taxi hit a pedestrian! She’s going to need an ambulance!” I answered plainly. My mind couldn’t think to give any more details at the time.

“Okay sir, an ambulance has been dispatched. What’s the number of the phone you’re calling from?”

I quickly give her my number, and she repeats it. After assuring me help was on the way, I run out to the woman, who’s already surrounded by four people.

“I’ve called 911, and an ambulance is on the way!” I shouted.

“Okay!” a young man replied. I can barely recognize him as the first person that ran out to the accident while I dialed 911.

By now, seven people huddled around the woman lying on the street. Three of them held umbrellas over her to protect her from the rain. A woman who said she was a nurse knelt by the woman talking to her, keeping her conscious. The young man who had arrived first was standing with the taxi driver at a distance, giving everyone space. I was the last person there.

With my part done, I returned to the canopy. A woman who worked at the restaurant was peaking through a crack in the door she had opened and asked if the woman was okay.

“Yes, she’s talking,” a woman answered. “I was just over there, but she refused to let me help her. I used to be a nurse,” she explained. “Thankfully, the woman behind me is a nurse, and she’s there right now.”

“Did someone call 911?” the woman inside asked.

“Yeah, an ambulance is on the way,” I answered.

“That’s good.”.

I turned back to the accident scene. I was drenched. I hadn’t noticed while I was out there, but now that I had time to think, I could feel how cold my arms and legs were underneath my wet clothing.

In silence, we waited. We all watched the group standing around the woman as time ticked by. Finally, I could hear sirens, and all of us looked around to see where they were coming from.

Police officers on motorcycles rode into the intersection and stopped traffic. A few rode ahead tailed by a line of private buses with tinted windows. My roommate pointed – those are probably the players on their way to the stadium, he said

As the rest of the cops began to move after the buses, I waved frantically and shouted for them to stop. One policeman noticed the stationary taxi and the group of people and pulled over. After an exchange with one of the people, he pulled out his radio and spoke into it briefly before moving his bike back a few feet to make sure vehicles didn’t get too close.

A moment later, more sirens blared from down the street. I recognized them as those of a fire truck. The fire truck turned onto our street and stopped right by the accident. Two firefighters jumped down with first aid kits and tended to the woman. By this time, even more sirens were coming closer, and I could make out the white shape of an ambulance two blocks away. When it arrived, it blocked our view of what was happening. At that moment, the rain let up and the air cleared. With the ambulance now here, we decided it was time to go.  My roommate and I took one last look back before steeling ourselves and running into the rain. I checked my cell phone. It was now 6:57PM. That entire event had lasted only ten minutes, but it felt like an hour or longer.

The adrenaline wore off as we ran, but the memories did not. Hours later, while we drove back to Louisville, I thought back to the accident. In all that time, I had never gotten the woman’s name. It was now 4AM, and I decided to see if there was news of the accident.

I punched ‘Picayune Times’ into my cellphone’s web browser and reached the New Orleans’ newspaper website. After an hour of scouring, I found nothing. There was news of several shootings, a possible rape, and another car accident involving a cyclist on an Italian team. There was nothing about a woman hit by a taxi downtown.

After another thirty minutes of digging, I had exhausted every section. Felling cold and anxious, I opened the obituaries page. There were dozens, but only a handful from Monday. None of them made any mention of the person being hit by a car.

The chill in my chest fizzled away. I let out a sigh and relaxed slightly. I could only conclude that the woman was still alive. With no other paths open for me to search out news about her, I set my cellphone down. I sat back for the rest of the drive home, never fully letting go of what had happened. A tragedy had happened at 6:47PM on Monday, April 2nd in New Orleans, but no one else would ever know besides the people who were there. And now you.

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2 responses to “A Tragedy in New Orleans”

  1. Kathy Matt says :

    I have goose bumps. We were there also and witnessed the accident. We were to the side of Mother’s restaurant in the doorway of the W hotel waiting to get to the basketball game. I also called 911 and had to spell the street name. We only stayed at the game til halftime. My husband and I could not get that sound out of our head. Thank you for writing about it…I too feel at ease that you could find no news. I searched also and could never find news, except for your blog! I can only hope the poor woman knows people won’t forget about her and are mindful of her pain and suffering for the next several weeks, months. New Orleans was a lot of fun, but a very dangerous place if you are a pedestrian and forget the rules of the roads.

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