The Christmas that changed my life.

A man sits dying and someone is singing to God

 by John P. Hansen

It was Christmas night 2003 and I was driving home from my job as a Corrections officer at the Coffee Creek Womenís Prison in Wilsonville Oregon. I completed my 3-11pm shift and had been commuting from Rockaway beach to Wilsonville for only a month or two.

I have worked with Youth in a correctional setting since 1987 but had been laid off from my most recent job at the Tillamook youth accountability camp after one year due to budget cuts.

It had been snowing a little on the valley floor and I figured there would be some accumulations on the mountain but I wasnít worried as I had put studded snow tires on as I always do in the winter, especially since I had been commuting one direction or another over the mountain  [ Hwy 6 between Portland Oregon and the Oregon coast ] since March of 2002 with an average round trip daily of about 200 miles, so ice and fog or snow was not really a concern anymore, just being careful was the main course of the day, everyday.

I followed a snowplow up the eastside of Hwy 6 heading west; I was in no hurry so I just stayed behind him and let him do his work. We crested the top of the mountain an elevation of only 1586 feet and started down the Westside. For a few miles it was a beautiful night, Snow was falling very heavily, the trees were covered and it was very serene from the snow covering the ground. I had just finished a shift at the Prison on Christmas so I was feeling pretty fortunate for the life I have.

I have always loved to drive in the snow it gives me that giddy feeling like when I was a kid getting ready to open Christmas presents. My mother taught me to drive in the snow in a 1952 Studebaker on my 16th Birthday.

After a few miles the plow pulled over and let me by so I gave it a little more gas and soon found out that I could not exceed 35 miles an hour without fishtailing or being unsafe so I slowed down to 30 mph..

There was a lot of snow on the ground and it was now after midnight on what I remember was Dec 26th.          2003

After a few more miles I came upon some lights off to the both sides of the road. I was still about one hundred yards away when I saw two dark figures standing in the middle of the highway flagging me down. It was two young men who were very upset. And shaken.  They told me that there was a man trapped in a van from a head on collision that had occurred just a few minutes earlier. They told me they didnít think he would make it.

I remember pausing for a quick second and took a deep breath I told myself that I could deal with this.

At first they thought I was a police officer as I was in full Department of Corrections uniform I explained that I wasnít a police officer to them. I asked them if 911 had been called and they said yes that another guy had run to a nearby house because cell phones did not work up on the mountain and that someone had taken one victim by car into Tillamook.

I never found out who it was. I popped my trunk and gave the two young men flares and glow sticks and told them to go out and set up a perimeter so that we would be safe from the trucks that pass over the mountain nightly.

At this point I braced myself and walked over to the scene.

I will not get into graphic detail as it is unnecessary.

I will tell you that I have never seen anything like it in my life. Cars scattered and destroyed, people crying moaning the smell of alcohol, somebody on the other side of the street vomiting. I was told that the young man in a pick up truck had tried to pass in six inches of snow and a blizzard.

I walked over to the van where the man was pinned and poked my head into the back area [the side door was open] and asked if everyone was ok or if they needed help [they must have been ok as I donít recall what was said  ... I then walked around to the front of the van which was destroyed.  I could barely see because of the darkness and there was a blizzard going on.

What I saw and heard was beyond explanation or comprehension. And I donít remember a lot but what I do remember is horrific it was a very helpless feeling he was trapped and there was nothing I could do to help him.

He was gravely injured I have never seen a man that injured all I can say is in the dark of night blood looks black.

I do know that I prayed with the man in a way Iíve never prayed before.  I constantly told him to hang in there and that help was on the way.  I asked God to help us all through this situation. I donít know if he could hear me or not but I just kept talking to him and praying for him I prayed many prayers including the Lord's prayer.

I remember getting a blanket out of my trunk so the snow would not fall on him it was coming down hard. I remember someone else putting a pillow by his head so he would be more comfortable. I think I remember giving someone a compress bandage I remember a lot of crying and of all things singing to God, someone at the scene was singing to God.

When the first state trooper showed up I explained what I had done and he thanked me. I asked if there was anything else I could do and he said no and told me they would be closing the road, so I left never telling anyone my name. I prayed and spoke to God all the way home in a way I have never spoken to him before.

I felt different. I also felt proud that I could handle a situation like that, my adrenaline was pumping. I was sure Iíd just sat with a dying man for 20-30 minutes but hope always prevails somewhere in my mind I had hope he would survive.

I went home reeling from what I had seen, deeply affected I had nightmares and just couldnít shake the horror. On my way to work the next day I was still reeling, and I hadnít heard if the accident was fatal or not. I spotted a State Trooper and found out that he had passed away minutes after I left. It hit me hard and I started crying and became very emotional. I had to leave work early I was very affected and it changed my life.

I told a few people and months went by ThenÖ.a letter from the Widow [Iím not sure where she got my name it could have only been two sources I will not divulge either. 

I called her and was blown away by the courage this woman had expressed over the phone. She said I believe there is a reason for everything and God has given us strength. She showed more faith and strength then I had ever seen.  She has three children [they were in the van that night] we talked about getting together I really want to but Iím not sure I can handle it. I found out that she was the one singing with her children in the van that night. It just seems incredible that her husband sits dying and she is singing to the Lord that is beyond belief to me, what strength and courage. A few days later I received a call from his best friend asking to get together I told him yes but I was still doing the commute so time was limited I still havenít met either of them yet.

Iím still in awe of this woman because all I could think was how angry I would be if someone had taken the life of my beloved. She didnít sound angry at all!

Today is Christmas 2004 one year later and Iím thankful that my drive is done, no more over the mountain. Iím back in Tillamook working with the youth again.

I saw a picture of Dr Craig Roberts in the paper yesterday I saw his face for the first time I cried again. To this day I donít remember the exact spot on the mountain, sometimes I think I do when I pass an area that looks like it.  I think somewhere in my heart or brain I think maybe Iíll see or feel more if I find the spot. Who knows?

This past year whenever I bring His name up I have heard nothing but what a great guy he was and how he cared and helped others and loved what he did, he made a difference in peoples lives on this earth. He was an Emergency room doctor for 15 years Iíve never heard of an ER Doctor that stayed for 15 years that in itself says a great deal. He was also one of the nationís top bird watchers or teachers.  Although his life was cut short he made a mark that cannot be erased.

I hope I can be remembered this way. Almost everyday I think about that night and how it has affected me. My faith is stronger my will is stronger and I realize just how fast life can be. I use it as a example to the young men I work with and spend my days trying to help them think a little better so they can try to live a better life.

As I grew up my parents were always telling me to slow down.

Although I canít say that the accident saved my life I know it slowed me down greatly.

I remember before that accident I was trying to beat my best time over the mountain.

I look back and realize how dangerous I was getting. Although I never met Dr Craig Roberts or his family he has greatly touched my life which extends to all those I come in contact with. We need to remember to be kinder and more understanding with each other and celebrate our differences smile and show some care and concern.

Life is precious and short. 

May God bless his soul and watch over his family

Love is all you need

You may contact John at:

John Hansen
PO Box 224
Rockaway Beach Or 97136

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