In most cases, change can take forever and we often don't see it happen. And then there are the instances where a person's life can change in a matter of seconds.

A sudden change andndash; or perhaps a better word would be traumatic andndash; caught me completely off guard 19 days ago when I was returning to work following a meal break. A man walked in front of me in the darkness on Highway 101. Even though I swerved and slammed on the brakes, there was little that could be done to avoid the collision. The man died at the scene.

It's true that when such an incident takes place, everything goes into slow motion. As I drive past the investigation markings, I can't help but think that what seemed like seconds really only took a fraction of one second.

When I came to a stop and got out, other drivers had already done the same. Several people already had their cell phones out to call 911, only to find someone was already dialing.

Seeing there was nothing to be done until authorities arrived, I walked to the side of the road and sat on the curb. Before I got there, another driver at the scene came to me to offer comfort and sit with me.

It didn't take very long for Cal-Ore Life Flight and Harbor Fire Department to arrive. Apparently the Oregon State Police trooper who investigated the accident must have been nearby, too. All too often, the troopers may be in another part of the county.

Authorities on the scene were professional andndash; the firefighters, the ambulance personnel, the state trooper and whoever else. No one made accusations, which was one of the many fears going through my head at the time. I was not just scared from what happened, but afraid of what could happen next.

The trooper asked if there was anyone he could call to come sit with me. I could only think of my coworkers. But then I remembered a friend from church. I called to start a prayer chain, but what I got was she and her husband arriving as well as my pastor to offer help.

It was hard to fall asleep that night, but I did sleep. The next day I didn't want to do anything, but I told myself that I had to move on with my life. I walked to the store, and on my way home, I was invited to see a Brookings-Harbor Community Theater children's play. Ironically, my insurance agent had the reserved seat next to me. He bought me popcorn. That night I covered the Chetco Pelican Players' Packy Awards ceremony. My neighbors were kind enough to offer me a ride there, and a friend took me home afterward.

Condolences poured in all weekend and, as of Tuesday, people are still sending me well wishes. Perhaps the most touching was a letter from the deceased's sister letting me know the incident was an accident that wasn't my fault.

A few days after the accident, an account was started to help me pay the insurance deductible. The donations paid more than half of the $1,000 bill.

The accident was tragic and it will take time to forget. But one thing I have learned from this is that I definitely live in a caring community.

Thank you to all who have sent me cards, helped me by being there, bringing me food and giving me financial help. You have been a blessing.


Bill Schlichting is features editor of the Curry Coastal Pilot. He can be reached at .