Clinton, New Jersey

It’s not even seven yet on a crisp, bright Sunday morning in summer as my wife, Janet, and I head for a vacation in Maine, driving east across New Jersey on I-78. I have just finished half a sesame bagel when a black van doing about 75 passes me on the left. It’s just pulled ahead of me when it starts to swerve—a small tilt to the left, then a correction right, then more wildly left. A strangely calm corner of my brain observes, They’re going to crash, as the van smashes into the guardrail and does a slow roll through the air. It hits the ground, rolls over once, twice, and comes to rest on its side halfway between the eastbound and westbound lanes. My car skids over onto the shoulder, and without thinking I am running toward the steaming black hulk, a forty-five-year-old college professor with no experience in first response, and not a clue what to do. The last time I studied first aid was in Boy Scouts.

Other cars are stopping, but I am there first. I find a little girl, very still, crying on the grass. Janet goes to her. I move on, toward the van. Another body—female, adult—lies twenty feet on the other side of the van. A German shepherd stands near the back end of the vehicle, regally alert.

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