Reporting erratic driver better than watching a semi roll

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Posted 4/10/18 (Tue)

Passing Dreams
By Steve Andrist

Did we save a life?
Maybe a couple?
Maybe even our own?
We’ll never know, but here’s the story.
My job took us to Grand Forks late last week, where North Dakota Republicans were meeting at their state convention to select candidates, hold pep rallies and establish policy positions.
My role was to preach the gospel of newspapers, explaining to politicians that yes, people still do read them and that they often turn to print when making voting decisions.
The convention was to run all day Saturday and in to Sunday, but as the weather forecast clarified the likelihood of an April snowstorm rearing its head early Sunday morning I sent a text message to my bride that we head out of the Forks Saturday afternoon and beat ol’ man winter to the punch.
I’d already had plenty of opportunity to rub shoulders, I reasoned. Besides, our Grand Forks kids had taken a last-minute opportunity to spend a long weekend in Washington, D.C., so there was no family in town anyway.
By late Saturday afternoon, sun shining and roads perfectly dry, we were west bound, despite having tired eyes from spending a couple of long days and short nights.
We were cruising, about an hour from our Bismarck destination, and catching up to a semi with an oversized load and warning lights flashing.
“It must be windier than I thought,” I said to Barbara after watching the semi veer somewhat sharply onto the rumble strips on the right shoulder.
Coming closer, I pulled into the passing lane to prepare to overtake the semi. He hit the strips again, then over-corrected, lurching half way into the passing lane and causing me to brake and fall back.
“It just doesn’t seem that windy,” I repeated as he struggled to stay on course.
Just as I was contemplating making another pass at passing, he did it again. And then a third time, this time crossing all the way to the rumble strips on the left shoulder.
That was enough, we agreed. We were close enough to home that following behind at 65 to 70 would be more prudent than risking being sideswiped by an oversized load.
“Oh my god!” proclaimed Barbara as he veered yet again, coming ominously close to hitting the right ditch at 65 per.
“Oh my god!” she repeated, a bit more hysterically, as a semi carrying two levels of cars was forced far onto the left shoulder while attempting to pass. “That’s not the wind. I’m calling this in before I have to do CPR on somebody in the ditch.”
She dialed 911 and the dispatcher said a patrolman would be headed our way soon. About 10 minutes later a trooper called back seeking more details on the situation.
Of course, driving 5 to 10 miles per hour under the limit on Interstate 94 caused a number of other travelers to catch up to and pass. Two or three sped past us and the wandering semi before another driver got scared off by the swerve warning and took it as a signal to join us as trailers.
Then a convoy of four vehicles cruised by. The first two successfully overtook us and the other follower and the semi. The next one was following suit when the semi abruptly jerked into the passing lane, causing the passer to brake hard to avoid a collision.
That was enough for two more drivers to decide following was more prudent than passing.
Keeping an eye on the drifting semi driver we also began looking for the approaching Highway Patrol vehicle, noting that we’d passed a dozen mile markers since calling the authorities.
All at once, there he was, pulling into the median to join our caravan. He followed us for a few seconds, then sped by, pulling back into the driving lane when there was only one vehicle left between him and the semi. We assumed he was watching for evidence of erratic driving.
It took less than a minute before he turned on his lights and settled in behind the semi. But the trooper had to pull out again and cruise, lights flashing, next to the semi driver, before getting him to pull over onto the shoulder.
The caravan slowly passed them by, and we relaxed for the final 20 minutes of the trip home.
That night, settled in for a little TV time, Barbara’s phone rang. It was the trooper, who wanted to thank her for calling.
“That semi driver was significantly impaired,” he reported.
She knew she’d cost him his job. She also knew she may have saved his life.