Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Mayhem and death on our neighborhood's killer road

At approximately eight o'clock on Sunday, as we turned onto the half-mile-long dirt road that goes from a paved but cratered two-lane highway to the gate of our ranch, we froze momentarily at the sight, barely visible in the distance under the moonlight, of twenty or more people and two pickup trucks, one brown the other light blue, stopped at awkward angles on the right and left shoulders.

My first response was curiosity—what the hell?—immediately followed by fear—let's get out of here!—but I didn't say anything. Stew, who was driving, proceeded slowly up to the second pickup which had the hood and the drivers door open, with the group of strangers milling about.

I repeatedly asked a young guy, holding a beer can and standing unsteadily by the right side of our car, ¿Qué pasó? ¿Qué pasó?, but his mumbled, bleary-eyed response was unintelligible. We thought it had been an accident but no one approached us for help and instead the crowd silently parted to let us get through.

When we got home I tried to look through our kitchen window but couldn't make out anything. So we wrote it off to a bunch of kids getting drunk in anticipation of the fiesta at the nearby town of Sosnavar this coming weekend.

On Monday morning Félix filled us in on the details which were too bizarre and gruesome even for this part of the world where, since we arrived seven years ago, approximately twenty people—probably more—have been killed on the road near our house that goes from the busy highway to Querétaro and San Miguel to the backwater town of Jalpa, fifteen kilometers away.

Photo of the SUV, courtesy of "San Miguel Sin Censura,"
a local internet publication. From the photo one can see
how the passenger might have escaped but the
driver was not so lucky. 
According to Félix, his wife and two other locals, two hours before we arrived a pickup driven by an inebriated twenty-one-year-old and carrying a passenger had veered sharply to avoid a pothole about a meter wide. Instead, according to witnesses, the vehicle flipped and tumbled a few times, flinging the driver into the air. It was a violent accident likely at high speed, judging by the oil slick and busted truck pieces, including the battery, air filter and pieces of the dashboard, scattered on the right side of the road.

The driver suffered major injuries to his head, and his left arm and feet were nearly severed. Amazingly, the passenger, another young guy returning from a soccer game, came out of the truck uninjured (was he wearing seat belts?), and ran to Sosnavar, about a kilometer away, to seek help. An ambulance arrived along with fire truck and a vehicle of the Civil Protection department. By the time he arrived at the hospital, the young driver was dead.

Then things got strange. The father of the victim arrived at the scene and insisted that what was left of the silver SUV be pulled away from the scene immediately so the police would not get a hold of it. So the young guys that had gathered at the scene (apparently) hitched the busted-up vehicle to another pick-up and dragged it diagonally about five-hundred feet across a field—a trail of tire tracks, truck parts, knocked-down fences and flattened prickly pear cacti and huizache bushes was still visible Monday morning—to the corner of the dirt road where Stew and I ran into the blue and brown pickups and the drunken observers.

Photo of the wreckage
I took Monday morning
But the silver SUV involved in the accident was nowhere to be found. Félix heard it had been dragged over to Sosnavar but he doesn't know where. There are conflicting stories regarding why the father of the victim was in such a hurry to get rid of the pickup. One story is that he didn't want to pay for the police to have it towed away and stored as evidence; another is that the victim was carrying a gun. Neither the driver's wallet nor the gun have been found.

Whatever the reason, Félix says, the police have lamely washed their hands in the case. With the crashed up vehicle missing and the accident scene trampled, they've argued, there's nothing to investigate, though they have fined some of the suspects in the disappearance of the SUV.

As in most accidents on the road to Jalpa, a drunk driver, usually a young man, was the protagonist in this case. The other common link is the absence around here of even any routine police presence whatsoever, never mind check points for breathalyzer tests or any other effort to combat an obvious public safety problem.

Two kilometers away, on a particularly sharp turn on the Jalpa road, at least ten people have died when they missed the turn and their trucks, usually carrying passengers on the bed, turned over. When the road was repaved two years ago, the state government installed a half-dozen warning signs on each side of the dangerous turn, but alas, local entrepreneurs ripped off the signs and traded them for cash at the recycling center. The signs have never been replaced.

Five kilometers in the other direction, a young man who had recently returned from the U.S. and was carrying five thousand dollars in his wallet was killed in another truck accident following a soccer game. First responders helpfully took the guy's money before calling for an ambulance.

Post-game brawls at soccer matches, when most everyone is good and plastered, have led to at least one fatal shooting.

For my money though, the most horrific accident took place three years ago a kilometer from our ranch, when a young boy riding home at night was hit by a drunk driver; both the boy and the horse were killed. The ambulance came and removed the boy, but the city's Ecology Department never came to pick up the horse carcass even after repeated requests. So the horse lay there for about a month while feral dogs and vultures feasted on the remains.

Félix left work early this afternoon to attend the funeral mass and burial of the latest victim of our killer road. The dead guy was somehow distantly related to Félix, as it's usually the case in Sosnavar, a town of about a thousand people, most of them apparently related to one another. At two o'clock the afternoon silence was punctured by six or eight lonely fireworks marking the end of the mass.

Félix came back at around four-thirty, almost speechless, to return our truck and report that most of the victim's family and friends had shown up drunk at the church and then at the cemetery, and that for some reason the family had decided on an open casket service for what was left of the young man.

I was planning to attend Sosnavar's fiesta this weekend, still scheduled to go despite the tragedy, to hang around and take some photos. I think I'll skip it.

###










5 comments:

  1. It appears I was lucky with my recent road adventure.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Not to worry. Next time you come to San Miguel, Barbara Eckrodt, Stew and I will provide armed escort to keep you safe.

      al

      PS when are you coming to San Miguel again?

      Delete
  2. Maybe they should install some topes near the dangerous curves. That's the one traffic control in Mexico that actually seems to work.

    Sad tales you spin here.

    Saludos,

    Kim G
    Redding, CA

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That is an excellent idea! (though you'd think all the potholes would slow people down) thanks, kime

      Delete
    2. That is an excellent idea! (though you'd think all the potholes would slow people down) thanks, kime

      Delete