My Dad watched his twin die
by Katrina Keith
(Pine Ridge, SD)
I was only 9 years old when it happened but I remember that night very well as I was very very close to my Uncle Snork, my dad's older twin brother (older by about 15 mins). We we so close I would often refer to him as my Big Brother since I was the oldest of 4 at the time I always wanted an older sibling. My Uncle and Father were both 29 years old on June 10th, 1990, the last night they were twins. My Dad had been a cop for about 2 years, and was on patrol from 12am to 7am that night. This wasn't his normal patrol but due to it being summer and there being pow wows and rodeos going on, the Dept. needed the help. Earlier in the day, I had gone to one of these rodeos with my maternal grandfather and was excited to see my uncle Snork's pickup there also, so I snuck up to it and scared him and his passenger. We laughed that I was able to make him jump so high (and during the day) soon after my grandfather was calling me to leave since the rodeo was now over and a dance was to start when the sun went down.
I went home and watched Back To The Future 2 with one of my little sisters and went to sleep. About 5am, my Father woke me and my sister up, my mom was already awake and getting our clothes ready and I remember thinking "why is dad home already and how come we have to get dressed?". So, i asked "Dad where we going?". He turned to me, and I saw in the light, that he had been crying and he told me "We're going to your grandma's (his mother), something happened to your uncle Snork".
Now that I'm older I realize how hard it was for him to hold it together to answer me calmly so not to freak me out. When we got to my gramdma's house I could see the street had a few cars lined up on the sides of the road but still my 9 yr old mind didn't grasp why they were there at 5am.
As we made our way up the drive, I could hear the crying and whimpering of relatives and friends coming from the house and front porch where I saw my dads older sister crying hysterically about the gas can that had always been in Snorks truck (his gas gauge was broken so he would fill the gas can to about 1/2 and keep it in his truck just in case).
My dad knew with all we were hearing and seen now was the time to tell us. He wrapped both me and my sister (who is only 11 months younger than myself) in his arms and behind a stream of tears told us "I'm sorry girls, your uncle Snorked died, he was in a really bad accident" huggin us tighter as we reacted as a 9 and 8 year old would.
Not until year later did I find out how terrible that accident was. My uncle Snork had started drinking at the rodeo, I saw him at, around 7pm waiting for the dance to start.
Finally around 5am he decided to return home, which was in town and the rodeo was 6 miles out of town. This road had about 8 curves and 5 un and down hills and was pocked with potholes every 1/2 mile or so.
He had made it safely to the 2 mile mark and headed down the biggest hill before town. Traveling at about 80 miles per hour on a 55 miles per hour road he seen a van broken down on the side of the road (from the same rodeo) and turned to go around it. As he went to go around the van he hit a pothole on the other side of the road and lost control, slamming into the parked van. The people from the van weren't hurt (thank GOD) since they were outside of the van waiting for help from relatives they knew would also be comming from the rodeo.
Even if the van wasn't there, losing control of a 1978 Ford 450 Engine truck @ 80 miles per hour would have slammed him into the trees behind the van. Apon hitting the side of the van his truck burst into flames immediately (the gas can my Aunt mentioned may very well have caused this), trapping my uncle in the cab.
It is debated by myself if he was aware he was bruning before he died, it something I don't really want to know. Now 5 minutes earlier my Dad, on patrol, said he had this compelling feeling to go West to the rodeo to check the crowd out and make sure there was no fighting and such. He turned his cruiser onto the road out West as a call was coming over the radio saying there had been a wreck 2 miles West of Pine Ridge and they needed officers and firemen to respond, it was a pickup and it was on fire.
My dad told me, years later when I was in my early twenties, he knew it was Snork and he threw up out the window as he was driving to the scene. My Dad was the first cop to respond and the only one for 20 minutes. When he got there, there was one other man who happened apon the wreck coming from the same rodeo, he was on the drivers side tuggin feverishly at the driver's side door. May dad ran over and within 3 feet of his burning twin brother, tried over and over again to open either door to drag my uncle out.
Again I don't know if my Uncle was conscious after the initial impact. The flames grew and grew until the entire truck was engulfed and approaching it was now impossible and the fear of it exploding again kept anyone, cops and firefighters, at bay for more than 1/2 an hour after the wreck.
After burning his hand and arms, melting some of his synthetic uniform, sinching his eye lashes, eyes brows and mustache, all my Dad could do was scream his twin brother's name and cry hysterically on the side of the road. He said for years he had nightmares of not being able to save Snork, how he couldn't smell certain thing since they reminded him of the smells of that night, and how he'd never hear his brother say his name again.
I cannot fathom watching any of my siblings burn to death mere feet away from me. He blamed himself, not only for being unable to save his twin, but for being the one who sold Snork the engine kit he used to supe-up his truck for the summer. The engine kit their father told them was "going to kill that boy". My dad and his younger brother had to identify Snork's body, which was now almost unreconizable, so their mother didn't have to.
A few days after the funeral, the cops were going to send his wrecked truck to a scrap yard, so my Dad opted to take it instead and had it pulled out to his garage with a big blue tarp over it. I always thought seeing that truck would only make him worse until I got older and he explained to me why he had to take it. Apparently, as they moved my Uncle's body from the wreckage, he lost some feet, leg and hand bones in the process. They had never been removed by the cops and no one told my Dad about it until AFTER the funeral. He told me he coudn't let his Twin rest without being whole again and he coudn't risk my grandmother finding out he had been that badly damaged in the crash by the cops if they had been the ones to clean it out (to this day she doesn't know his truck exploded and he may have been burned alive).
My dad slowly but surely went a little crazy for 10 years or so after. He never was a cop or the same again. He became an alcoholic to deal with the pain and a cocaine addict to forget the pain he coudn't deal with. He started to abuse my mother and took on this "I don't giva a f**" attitude about life in gerneral. Now, 18 year after the crash and 8 years since my Dad has been clean and sober, he has come to terms with his Twin's death and lives life to the fullest everyday. He and my mother (God bless her) have worked throught their problems and are happier than ever as is the rest of the family!!
I write this to show that not only to some victims of drunk driving die but so can the light in those who love them.
I didn't speak for 3 days after Snork died, evertime I tried to open my mouth to say anything I would feel the frog in my throat wanting to get out, so to avoid that feeling I stopped talking altogether for a while.
Please don't drink and drive!! Nothing is worth having a family memeber watch you burn to death, bury you, or have to explain to children where you went.
I once heard that drunk driving kills families, it's true, family's do die inside, but they can also help each other live. Imagine your mangled body being identified by your mother, father, sibling. See how much pain they're in, they can't hug you, they can't tell you goodbye, they can't kiss you and have you feel it, they're left empty. Now, would you want that experiance to be the last thing you leave your family?