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Beyond the Friday Funnies 

Derek NelsonDerek Nelson has been writing the Friday Funnies since 2002. He also creates the Photo of the Week feature for this website. A long-time Naval Safety Center employee, he is head of the Media Division in the Communications and Marketing Department. He is author of more than 200 freelance magazine articles and ten books about Americana and military history.

False Start

Posted March 4, 2014

Generally, when I start to write the Funnies or the Not-So-Funnies, I’m clear about which bailiwick I’m in. For the Funnies: Poorly-thought-out behavior, minor injuries, soundtrack primarily of “Oops!” and “Ouch!” Could be animated into a cartoon, but with actual lessons learned. Results of mishap sometimes painful but comparatively minor. For the Not-So-Funnies: Similar lack of risk management, but with much worse results. Sound track of sirens, EMT dialogue and police radios. Victims in wheelchairs or coffins.

I assumed I was in the former ballpark when I read the following in the short narrative of the mishap report: “The accident occurred when member fell asleep while parked at a service station and inadvertently bumped the gearshift of his truck… which then moved forward down an embankment and onto eastbound Interstate.” I stashed it in my file of possible content.

A few weeks later, I started to write it up, adding more details by retrieving the full report. I planned to run it in an issue of the Funnies along with an item about a guy who got in a minor wreck because he was trying (and failing) to stay awake by talking to his girlfriend on his cellphone. Here’s how I was going to start this new item about the pickup truck: “Speaking of wake-up calls, here’s a little bedtime story for the next time you pull over to get some en-route shut-eye.”

Since the mishap occurred at 0523, I figured that he had been very sleepy. I wrote that he appeared to have been doing the right thing. “He parked his truck, settled back, counted a few sheep and was soon snug as a bug,” I wrote. “Except, or course, bugs don’t drive trucks with manual transmissions, park them on the edge of an embankment overlooking an interstate, and then accidentally bump the gearshift into neutral.”

I was going to speculate that the truck’s emergency brake was inop. I wondered about the lack of a curb at the top of the embankment. Meanwhile, scanning the full mishap report, I saw that his BAC was 0.097. This fact made me wonder how he’d gotten to the gas station to begin with -- some serious drunk-driving must have preceded that leg of his trip.

Scanning the mishap report, I noted that a tractor-trailer had hit the truck on the interstate. Then I noticed this line: “Injury/Illness Severity: Fatal.”


In retrospect, I should have realized that a truck probably wasn’t going to rumble down an embankment and onto a highway and get hit by a semi, and then the guy in the truck could walk away unscathed. I could have saved myself whatever time and energy I’d spent on that “snug as a bug” stuff.

Ignore this one because it is just too bizarre and wouldn’t happen again? Save it for a Not-So-Funnies? I still wonder about the events and decisions that led up to it. If the victim had been more sober, would it have occurred to him to use the emergency brake and/or park elsewhere? There has to be a lesson learned.


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