Inches from death in a 26-car pileup, an Oregon man can't believe he's alive – Washington Post
Before he offered the world his best impression of a man trapped in a sardine can, Kaleb Whitby had never even been in a car wreck. Now that he has — walking away from a 26-car pileup on Interstate 84 in Oregon on Saturday with exactly two Band-Aids and some ice — the 27-year-old farmer has some serious thinking to do.
“Thank God that I’m still alive,” Whitby told the Oregonian. “Now I’ve got to go figure out why.”
Divine sources did not immediately respond to this reporter’s repeated requests for comment, so for now we’ll just have to attribute Whitby’s improbable survival to good old-fashioned luck — and no small amount of it, either. More than 100 people, a dozen of them injured, were involved in the pileup, which happened about 30 miles east of Baker City, according to the Oregonian. Hours after saying goodbye to his pregnant wife and the couple’s 2-year-old son, Whitby was headed to Council, Idaho, when the accident occurred, according to the Oregonian.
The Oregonian’s reconstruction of the moments just before Whitby’s Chevy Silverado was crushed like a soda can between two semi-trucks on icy roads suggests that he was a slight turn of someone’s wheel or a minor increase in vehicular speed away from being killed.
Headed up a slight hill into a curve, Whitby decided to pass the semi-truck in front of him, but then thought better of it. The fog was too thick. He backed off.
When he rounded the curve and started descending, Whitby saw the semi again — but this time it was jack-knifed across the interstate. He swerved to the right, but ended up hitting the back end of the trailer. It flipped him around, and instantly his truck stalled — leaving him splayed out with his passenger side facing oncoming traffic.
Then the headlights of an oncoming semi-truck filled the window frame.
“I just braced and hoped that everything would be all right,” Whitby said.
He prayed, and wondered if it was his time. Ten seconds went by.
The truck bore down on him.
What happened next? The semi struck and Whitby opened his eyes to find shattered glass and large portions of his vehicle missing, according to the Oregonian. He cut his seat belt using a pocketknife and managed to “dislodge the steering column from his side,” according to the paper.
“I just kept telling myself to calm down,” Whitby told the paper, without noting that not calming down would have been a perfectly reasonable response as well.
Sergi Karplyuk, the driver of the semi that slammed into Whitby, was convinced that he had killed whoever was sitting in the tangle of metal wedged beneath his truck. At first, he said, because of the chaos and fog, none of the truck drivers on the scene even noticed that a vehicle had been crushed. Karplyuk approached cautiously, expecting to find a mutilated body.
“I see this head and he’s just like, starts speaking,” Karplyuk told The Washington Post. “It’s just this guy and he says, ‘I’m okay, I just can’t get out.’ He was just so calm that I couldn’t believe it. I was like, ‘Are you sure you’re totally okay? Your legs aren’t crushed and your knees are all right? He kept saying he was fine.’ “
The vehicle appeared to crush around Whitby, forming a cramped, protective pocket around his body, Karplyuk said. Had he not instinctively swerved left moments before the crash, impacting the Silverado’s cab more directly, he’s certain Whitby would’ve been killed.
“I’m just glad nobody died,” he said.
Thirty minutes later, Karplyuk said, Whitby had freed himself by sliding out of the bottom of the wreckage and was helping other motorists stranded along the roadway. He ended up in the hospital for a check-up and was eventually picked up by his parents.
“I’ve got two Band-Aids on my right ring finger,” he said. “And a little bit of ice on my left eye.”
Peter Holley is a general assignment reporter at The Washington Post. He can be reached at [email protected]