Survival of the Fittest?

Adherents to Darwinism believe in survival of the fittest. To be clear, when Darwin’s devotees discuss the idea of survival of the fittest, they are not saying the most physically fit creature or creatures survive. Thankfully, species survival is not nature’s version of American Ninja Warrior, Olympic competition, or a battlefield. If it were, God might have given responsibility for His creation to some species other than humankind.

If you are now expecting some deeply spiritual or philosophical discussion of humanity’s dominance within the animal kingdom, you will be sorely disappointed. The purpose of this piece is to point out that individual humans often survive when any reasoning creature would expect them to perish.

For the record, I am not speaking of heroic deeds in battle or putting one’s life at risk to save another. Instead, I am writing about circumstances highlighting God’s mercy or, if you prefer, nature’s whimsy. For example, consider the saga of a fellow named Willy.

I was reminded of Willy not long ago while heading to the sprawling metropolis of Krum, Texas.1 On this day, I followed my phone’s directions to see how the route it suggested compared with the one I thought was best. I must admit, it was challenging to give the app much credibility when it insisted it was directing me to “crooom.”

Language algorithms aside, the directions were pretty good. I am not 100 percent certain it was a better route than the one I would have driven. Still, it worked, and the road led me past the place Willy should have died in the early 1970s.

Okay, Willy is a pseudonym I’ve assigned to this guy for two critical reasons. First, as I was reminded not long ago, when real names are used in stories such as this, family members of the person discussed may read the post. If, as in this case, the post or essay is not flattering, they may be offended or hurt by the truth about their relative. Second, I knew so many “Willies” over the years, I cannot remember all their actual names.

This Willy was a hardworking guy as I remember it. In fact, he worked so hard during the week, he needed to relax as quickly and thoroughly as possible when the week was done. In plain language, that means Willy cashed his paycheck around the corner from his job and started pounding beers until the week was, at best, a hazy memory. On a good weekend, Willy would make Monday morning without ending up in jail, but Willy did not have a lot of good weekends.

By the time I met Willy, he was on a first-name basis with most of the local law enforcement community. He was also beginning to realize he faced the possibility of becoming a long term guest of the state if he did not change his ways.

I would love to tell you that Willy swore off alcohol, started going to church, and never stepped into a jail cell again. Of course, that would be a complete fabrication. The real story is less heartwarming but quite fantastic. It started on a Friday or Saturday night just after closing time.

Willy was headed home from his favorite watering hole when he attracted the attention of a local Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) unit. When the trooper hit his red lights, Willy hit the gas. Yep! That was Willy’s plan to avoid jail, outrun the cops.

As the city officer working in the area, I was dispatched to backup the DPS unit. I did not have much to do as the incident was pretty much over when I caught them. You see, Willy tried to make it to the interstate, where he hoped his hotrod Pontiac would prove fast enough to make his getaway.

Willy’s plan worked for a while. He headed northwest out of town, attempting to make it to the highway. It was not heavily traveled at that time of night, and that Pontiac would really fly on a straight road. Whether it would have outrun the DPS unit is something we’ll never know. Willy encountered some problems, which might have been obvious if he’d been sober.

The first problem was the so-called muscle cars of that era had lots of horsepower. That means they could go fast! I can testify speeds of well over an indicated 125 mph could be achieved on the open road in a car such as Willy’s. Of course, I never drove that fast in my personal muscle car. I only drove that fast while pursuing someone like Willy.

Yes, those cars were fast. Their biggest shortcoming was in the stopping department. As both a young hot rodder and later a young police officer, I can attest to that reality. A four hundred horsepower, three thousand pound car had, for the most part, the same brake system as your grandmother’s hot-water six in those days.

The second problem was, in a way, related to the brake issue. The road Willy chose dead-ended at the interstate in a rural area, with minimal lighting. In fact, the only light came from the truck stop near the intersection, and that was more blinding than illuminating.

Another problem was a driver could not see the truck stop or the intersection until he topped a hill a few hundred yards south of their location. Willy was traveling well over 100 miles per hour when he crested the hill.

I do not know when Willy realized he had a problem. I do know he locked his brakes when he recognized his situation. His car left long skid marks before it left the pavement. They led right up to the bar ditch, which the Pontiac jumped, slamming into the overpass embankment. If I remember correctly, the front bumper plowed up 60 feet of sod before the car came to a rest.

When I arrived on the scene, the senior DPS officer was on the radio, calling for assistance. The younger officer, fresh out of the academy, was standing next to Willy’s smashed Pontiac’s passenger door. He was staring into the passenger compartment. When I reached the car, I realized why the rookie was simply standing there pale-faced gazing into the vehicle.

When the Pontiac hit the embankment, Willy had a death-grip on the steering wheel. That was evident from the fact it was almost ripped off the steering column. Then, momentum slammed him into the steering column, likely crushing his chest. Next, his face hit the dashboard, and the spray of blood indicated he hit nose-first. Before Willy’s body was thrown into the passenger side floorboard, his head cracked the windshield. As it stopped, the rear end skewed right, throwing Willy to the right. He came to rest, with his head jammed into the right kick-panel.

From outside the car, it appeared there was a headless body crammed into the space a passenger’s feet would normally rest. Either that or Willy’s head was jammed through the kick-panel and stuck in the fender. In retrospect, that was not possible, but it looked that way. Still, we could not assume he was decapitated or dead from blunt force trauma.

Accordingly, I reached in through the driver’s window, grabbed his belt, and pulled. Willy was not a small guy, and he was dead weight at the moment. The body shifted some, but I needed help. Suddenly, the young trooper came out of his daze and helped. He reached in from the other side and grabbed Willy’s arm and shoulder, pulling him enough that he rolled partially onto the seat. We were both amazed when he took a breath.

If you are wincing at how we were handling Willy, or his body, keep one thing in mind. This was long before the days of EMTs, Paramedics, and Mobile Emergency Rooms. We were waiting for a funeral home ambulance, likely driven by a college student. He might know basic first aid but would not be as qualified as either of us to assist the driver. Also, we had to do something to determine if the driver was alive or we needed to call a Peace Justice to declare him dead. Back to Willy, drawing a breath, which is the point of this story.

The guy was still alive! He was breathing! We yelled to the senior trooper, and he said the ambulance was coming over the hill. About that time, Willy made a horrible rattling noise in his throat and stopped breathing. We quickly pulled him out of the car, laid him on the ground, and he took a breath. Whew, maybe this would not be a fatality accident after all.

Willy suffered multiple severe injuries. As I surmised when I saw the car’s damage, the steering wheel crushed his chest upon impact. His face hit the dashboard, royally messing up his face, forehead, and what have you. His head did smash the windshield, and it was slammed into the kick panel. While transporting him from the local emergency room to Parkland Hospital in Dallas, the accompanying nurse said he quit breathing three times.

Doctors at Parkland told his family he would probably not survive. If he did, he might be severely brain-damaged or a vegetable in the vernacular of the time. Six weeks later, he was back in Denton, walking around and as cognitively functional as before. True, he was in an upper-body cast, but he wasn’t taking that last sleep in the family plot.

So, is there a moral to this story? Is there a lesson to be learned from this experience? The most fundamental moral of this story, depending on how one thinks of God, the universe, good and evil, is the fittest are not necessarily the ones who survive. Willy should have died on the side of the I35 at US77 overpass in Denton County that evening. The fact he did not raises a few questions.

My theological education and my belief system lead me to believe there was a reason for his survival. Perhaps he did sober up at some point. Maybe he became a volunteer helping others deal with their alcohol problems. Or, at worst, his experience led one of his buddies or family members to change their ways.

My old cop and pragmatist sides tend to think Willy, along with many other hard drinkers I ran across as a police officer, ended up the primary character in a fatality accident or other tragic incident. Yet, I know several people who did change, and they managed to do it without hitting a highway embankment at high speeds. One can only hope that when God shows His mercy to someone, such as Willy, someone else is paying attention.

 1 1970 Population 454 

© – 2019

About S. Eric Jackson

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