Terror on the Plateau

8 Mar

I recently wrote about my battle with the forces of nature while supporting my favorite basketball team. That event took place in 2008, but another event just as terrifying took place the next season.

In January 2009, I headed out with my friends, Jeff and McDonald, to watch the University of Tennessee play basketball against South Carolina. Being a night game, we got a late start and knew that we would have a late night return. We didn’t realize that we would be lucky to get home at all.

After a victory by the home team, we walked out of the arena and into a night that was damp but not cold, the type of night that we had driven through many times. Jeff, who was driving, hit Interstate 40 while we listened to the post game show on the radio. We were all hungry but decided to drive until the show was over. Having done this many times, all of us knew that this would get us to the Rockwood exit and a Ruby Tuesday’s.

We had a great meal before driving off into the night. As we walked out of the restaurant, it was impossible to ignore the fine mist falling from the sky, and I, without realizing it, made a fateful decision. I told McDonald that I would sacrifice and sit in the cramped backseat.

Traffic was heavy as we drove westward toward home, and the mist continued. It was a tricky drive, but something was happening outside that we didn’t realize. Between Nashville and Knoxville sits a geographic formation called the Cumberland Plateau that is higher in elevation that the two cities on either end of it. The higher we climbed, the colder it was getting. The fine mist was turning to black ice on the road.

The first sign of trouble was a pickup and a trailer that began swerving in front of us. We thought he just didn’t know how to pull a U-Haul and passed him. That’s when Jeff realized that we were on ice, and the vehicle was out of his control. For me, the next few seconds went into a mental slow motion. We were sliding along with other cars, and Jeff was trying to steer toward the guard rail to get us stopped. The mist was coming down, and fog had descended. That’s when the headlights hit something that no one could ever suspect. A wall was sitting across the road. Not a real wall, but an over turned tractor-trailer lying in our path.

Idiotically, I was not wearing a seatbelt and knew that I was in trouble. Without thinking, I laid down in the backseat and closed my eyes. From the back of my mind came the idea that I needed to stay limber. Maybe I heard it while watching a NASCAR race. Whatever the reason, I forced myself to stay loose on impact.

After that, I heard Jeff say, “I believe we’re gonna hit her, boys!” McDonald replied, “No shit!” Then, there was impact, and my head hit the back of the seat. Almost instantaneously, another vehicle, the one pulling the trailer, hit us. We sat stunned until someone from the outside yelled, “I smell gasoline!” The doors would not open, so we crawled out the smashed back window; climbed over the other truck; and, jumped over the guard rail.

I had the foresight to grab my cellphone as we escaped the carnage and called my parents when I knew that we were out of harm’s way. As I told them the story, I could hear crashes in the distance. Before it was over, we were car number one in a forty car pileup.

However, the night was just beginning. Jeff’s face smashed into the steering wheel, and he was losing blood and teeth at an alarming rate. McDonald couldn’t climb over the guard rail because his arm was broken. Luckily, I only had a scratch on my forehead. Immediately, people started scrambling. A woman was trapped in her car and under the truck. The TV announcer for the game was in the wreck as well. Truckers were climbing out of their cabs and trying to help. The air was getting colder by the minute, and the road was getting slicker. Now, we jokingly call it “Terror on the Plateau”, but it wasn’t funny that night.

I got Jeff into the cab of a truck for warmth and called his wife. I also called our friend Larry and asked him to call McDonald’s wife. That’s when I got a call from a friend caught in the traffic. He asked, “Are you caught up in this wreck?” I replied, “We are the wreck.” He sat in one spot until daylight.

After 1 1/2 hours, the ambulances began to show up. They were behind because seven other wrecks happened at the same time, and they couldn’t make it up the incline to us. It was too frozen. We finally got Jeff into an ambulance, and I waited for another one with McDonald. When it arrived, I stormed my way into it because it was the only ride I had into town. McDonald asked the paramedic if his arm was broke. The paramedic answered, “I don’t know, but it’s deformed.” That made us laugh for the first time in a while.

They checked us at the emergency room in Crossville while we waited for Larry, who had decided to head our way, to pick us up. He had a heck of a time too, as the interstate was closed coming from the west as well. When he arrived, I was sitting in a chair. McDonald had his arm in a sling. Jeff was sitting in a wheelchair and looking like Rocky Balboa after his first fight with Apollo Creed.

We were all nervous on the way home but finally made it at 6 in the morning.

After several operations, Jeff is back to normal, except for some false teeth. McDonald’s arm healed but only after he missed a season of senior softball. I was sore for a while but had no injuries. We have been to many basketball and football games since, and the terror of that night is slowly fading away. However, we still talk about that night as we go down the interstate, and I always look at the spot where the truck created a wall across the road. The spot where we lived several hours in our own disaster movie.

11 Responses to “Terror on the Plateau”

  1. 3guys1movie March 11, 2012 at 18:47 #

    Damn Dude, that is one crazy story. Makes me glad I moved to the West Coast to get away from all that snow and ice.

    • surroundedbyimbeciles March 11, 2012 at 18:55 #

      It was a hell of a night. Thanks for checking out my post.

  2. Rick January 18, 2014 at 01:11 #

    Reblogged this on Surrounded By Imbeciles and commented:

    This is the fifth anniversary of a night that I will never forget. I wrote a post about that night and felt it would be fitting to reblog it.

  3. Marilyn Armstrong January 18, 2014 at 01:32 #

    Wow. That WAS scary. I hate ice. My husband had a near fatal crash on ice at night … and I’ve gotten too close for comfort. Glad it’s just a rousing tale now and not a tragedy.

    • Rick January 18, 2014 at 01:48 #

      We tell the story of that night each time we pass the spot.

  4. jcalberta January 18, 2014 at 17:57 #

    Wow! All I can say is: Glad I wasn’t there.

    Think I’ll stick a pic of Angie on my blog.

    • Rick January 18, 2014 at 18:35 #

      It was an interesting experience.

  5. DyingNote January 20, 2014 at 09:18 #

    I’ve been to the US a few times but there was only once that I went in winter. The day I was leaving back to home, we had just about managed to getting into a pile-up as we were heading back to the airport. I was told by my colleagues later that one did happen just a little while later on that road.

    It really is scary – that point when you lose control. Reminds me of the time I went off my bicycle at high speed and regained a weird consciousness thinking of the scene from Gladiator where Maximus’s hand goes brushing grass (or something like that) on his way to the pearly (oh well, wooden in this case) gates. And then the pain from broken ribs woke me up. You’re just thankful that you made it ok.

    • Rick January 20, 2014 at 14:07 #

      It’s a strange feeling to be out of control and not knowing what’s going to happen. Giant wrecks like that don’t happen very often, but they usually lead to death. We’re lucky this one didn’t.


  1. That Senator in the Headlights Look | Surrounded By Imbeciles - April 30, 2013

    […] Several years ago, we were driving to Knoxville to watch the University of Tennessee play basketball. My friend Jeff was driving, which is always a little adventurous. He was the one driving when we encountered “The Terror on the Plateau“. […]

  2. 500 Posts – A Look Back at the Evolution of a Blog | Surrounded By Imbeciles - July 28, 2014

    […] Terror on the Plateau – A true life event that could have very well been the end of me. […]

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