“Dad. I think I killed someone.”
These were the first words her father heard through the phone as she sobbed in the middle of the intersection between the two mangled cars.
Junior, Sarah Steblin got off her shift at 9 p.m. on a Friday night in September. She was working at the Chick-Fil-A on Dale Mabry and was relieved to get off. She had no exciting Friday night plans with friends, but was simply pleased to go home and relax.
Worn out, she got into her red Volkswagen Jetta. She had no reason to text; she wasn’t even playing the radio. The usual distractions of a car ride were non-existent. She was driving at the speed limit posted 55 mph.
However, she took her eyes off the road and out her right window for just a few seconds… just a few seconds too long. She saw a green light pretty far ahead of her, but while her attention was elsewhere, the light had turned from yellow to red and cars had come to a complete stop.
By the time Steblin looked back to her front window, she was only about a foot from a stopped dark green SUV. Still going 55 mph, she slammed into the back of the vehicle carrying two parents and their young son in the backseat.
Steblin’s car slid into the middle of the intersection before screeching to a halt. The airbag exploded, smothering her. The engine began to smoke, filling the car. She couldn’t see anything. Afraid that the car might catch fire, she looked down at her work uniform; thick-soled black shoes and black high socks. The driver side window was already shattered in the upper right-hand corner. Panicked, she kicked out the rest of the glass and crawled out of the smoky wreck.
“When I got out and stood next to my car, I didn’t see the car I had hit anywhere. I couldn’t find them. But I finally saw that my force had pushed them into another intersection,” said Steblin.
People started pulling over, asking if she was okay and calling 911.
“I walked across the intersection to the other family. The mother sat unconscious in the passenger seat. Her head was back, she wasn’t moving and it didn’t look like she was breathing,” said Steblin.
The young boy was about 12 or 13 years old. He looked frightened as he frantically tapped his mother’s shoulder.
Sarah looked at the father in disbelief and said she was so sorry.
“I didn’t have a clue what to say but I felt like I owed them that right then,” said Steblin.
She turned away and called her father. She still wasn’t crying, but when her dad answered the phone she bursts into tears, reality finally hitting her.
“Dad. I think I killed someone. I just completely destroyed my car and I think I killed the person in front of me,” said Steblin.
Waiting for her parents to arrive, she was told it was mandatory that she be taken to the hospital even though she did not feel hurt.
“The other family had to have metal ripped from the car to get out and were taken to the ambulance on stretchers. I got to just walk to the ambulance,” said Steblin.
Her parents arrived and Sarah broke down. Heaving, sobbing and choking on tears, overwhelmed by fear, anger at herself, and the terror that she had hurt or even killed someone.
“I cried for hours. It was scary seeing my car completely smashed in and realizing that I just did that. That I was in that car,” said Steblin.
It happens and it happens in the blink of an eye. The crash taught Steblin two things. It taught her that it’s not always in your control as a driver. She thinks about the position the other family was in; just sitting at a stoplight, a thought never crossing their minds that they might lose their lives in the next second. The experience taught her driving doesn’t take 99 percent of your awareness, it takes 100 percent.
“You have to pay complete attention because every second you’re on the road is another second something can happen,” said Steblin.
Steblin says she is exceedingly careful now, never touching her phone even to change music. The fire fighters told Steblin and her family later that night that if her car had been any bigger, she would have killed the little boy in the back seat. If her car had been any smaller, she would have died.
“It’ll always be on my conscience. This is something that stays with you forever.”
Evyn Moon/Centerspread Editor