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mantastrip1 mantastrip2 mantastrip3 Manta Ray - Flower Gardens, Gulf of Mexico 2000 dutchwestindies From Arkansas to the Dutch West Indies 2007 miscstrip1 miscstrip2 miscstrip3 miscstrip4 mantastrip1 mantastrip2 mantastrip3 Manta Ray - Flower Gardens, Gulf of Mexico 2000 dutchwestindies From Arkansas to the Dutch West Indies 2007 miscstrip1 All words and images Copyright 2010 by Michael Tierney Manta Ray


We've all heard of Good Luck Charms.
Here are my experiences in surviving an extremely potent Bad Luck Charm.
Decades ago I read a comment by award-winnning science-fiction and fantasy writer Michael Moorcock, who refered to writing as an act of exorcism.
This is my exorcism:
HAW 056 the Cursed License Plate

HAW 056: The Cursed License Plate -- by Michael Tierney

This could have been titled; "Split Second Crisis Management," because siituations of life and death often only give you a split second to react.

When I was issued Arkansas license plate HAW O56, I had no idea that the number "0" in HAW 056 was actually the bull'seye of a target, and that plate would have connections to a total of ten wrtecked cars, four of them mine. Only that license plate and I kept surviving to be bent back into shape.

I should also note that I've never been at fault in any wreck. My driving record in Arkansas is non-existent. Never had a ticket of any kind -- not even a parking ticket.

The bad luck began when a woman named Esserine F. blindly ran her sister's uninsured car through a North Little Rock stop sign and into a packed four lane through intersection, causing a five car pileup.

Esserine hit the front driver's side of my car, stopping me dead in the road, and then careened into two other cars coming from the opposite direction. The car following me finished the job of turning my all-time favorite car, a classic 1969 Buick Gran Sport 400, into an accordion.

Here's a before picture. The body style was a prototype for the 1972 Chevy Chevelle.
Cousin Jimmy Tierney donated a whole weekend to help me install a new engine.
This automotive era was perfect for shade-tree mechanics. I hated having to sell my Gran Sport 400 for scrap.

The State Handed Me a Curse

Being hit twice in rapid succession, I wondered when the crashes were going to end, and from which direction the next hit would come. My Gran Sport 400 didn't have seat belts.

It was after this wreck that the state retired my old license plate (which wasn't that old to me), and issued HAW 056, which would repeat a streak of bad luck that didn't stop until yet another five cars were wrecked..

Another pattern that would repeat was that I always seemed to be the only person with insurance, which sometimes made me into a target a second time. When Eseerine F. explained her lawsuit to the judge as; "I pulled out in front of him, and he hit me!" The judge immediately threw her case out. The jury returned after five minutes, and awarded me more than I asked in my countersuit.

Never saw a penny.

There was also a failed car-jacking attempt on my Mustang hatchback. For some reason, they thought I was a cop and ran away. The only thing I lost was my basketball, when it went bouncing away down the street. You can guess why I never reported to the police an assault by three black men, and the loss of my basketball.

Then there was the time my brother called me after his truck slid off ice covered roads. Finishing his newspaper motor route, I'd started back down Little Italy Mountain when my Pontiac Sunbird started to hydroplane on black ice. I was picking up speed and looking at an unrailed curve ahead, with tree tops below. So I bounced the light weight car off a curve sign -- much like you would bank a cue ball off the side rail. Destroyed one side of the car, but I avoided going for a fatal flight.

All of those occurrences happened with HAW 056 affixed to the bumper.

Now we get to the part where my life was saved by NOT wearing a seat belt. I know this goes against popular opinion, but the fact is we've all heard about people trapped in burning or submerging cars, or those whose bellies were ripped open by seat belts.

I've had personal experiences where those horror stories would have been about me. Not could have. Would have. Twice: if I had been wearing a seat belt -- I'd be dead.

First; my car was crushed by a large, falling tree.

I didn't hit the tree. The tree hit me.

Large enough for two grown adults to put their arms around the trunk and barely touch fingertips, this tree was rotted out at the base. There was also a late winter storm rolling past that was a strange combination of snow and thunder.

Whether lightning snapped that tree, or wind - I'll never know. But I'll never forget my train of thoughts at the time. Being a divorced man without children, I was wondering how I could get cash for my station wagon and buy something sportier.

Driving along at 30 mph, I next wondered where the tree branches at the top of my windshield were suddenly coming from.

When I leaned to look...


My wagon was slammed flat.

The fallen tree stretched across my car from the rear blind side quarter panel and across the front driver's side quarter panel. The road was completely blocked. The evening news played a clip of a chainsaw crew clearing the site.

An employee at the Fast Print shop I managed at the time drove past the site, and would later ask; "There was a car under there?"

Like a scene from 'Monkey's Paw,' the insurance company issued me a settlement check. Ever since, I'm more careful about what I wish for.

I'll always remember how the crowd was too scared to look. I heard comments about how no one could have survived 'that.' Finally someone came close and shouted; "Is anyone alive in there?"

When I answered back, I heard groans of disappointment. A couple of voices complained about how they'd thought they'd watched someone die. The passanger door was fairly intact, so I was able to crawl out.

The flying glass had bloodied me so much that my next door neighbor, who was the first Sherwood policeman on the scene, didn't recognize me. While I waited for the ambulance in the back of his patrol car, he kept looking me in the eye and asking if I knew how lucky I'd been.

Being flattened across the front seat was the only reason that the wreck wasn't fatal. The whiplash of the impact through the body snapped my sternum, one of the strongest bones in your body, in two.

But if I'd been restrained by a shoulder harness - holding me upright while a few tons of wood dropped on my head - there would have been a closed casket funeral, and the crowd would have had better stories to tell.

HAW056-3 HAW056-5 HAW056-6 HAW056-7

People Pay Big Money for Experineces Like This

Years later, my neighbor would hand me a report for another Sherwood accident, wearing the same incredulous expression that I'd seen before. This paper recorded my encounter with a 17 year-old drunk driver.

Peter L had already lost his driver's license for previous DWI's. The report estimated that his uninsured Ford Torino, tagged with a stolen license plate, was doing somewhere between 120 and 130 mph in a 30 mph zone when he topped the hill behind my Ford Mustang hatchback.

My first warning of trouble was when the driver and passenger of a small truck headed toward me started screaming and ducking under the dashboard of their still moving vehicle.

Looking in my rear view mirror, I saw a pair of headlights go from small to huge in an instant.

I only had time to think; "This is going to hurt."

The drunk never touched his brakes.

People pay a lot of money at amusement parks for rides that pale in comparison to the one I took that evening.

The crash was so tremendous, the police never determined the exact point of impact. My tail lights had been turned to powder.

During that fuzzy, distinctly out of focus moment of being struck by great velocity, every bolt on my car seat broke as I was thrown up into the air and beneath the hatcback glass. I was certain I was about to die, and called God's name.

The impact accellerated my car directly into the driver's side front fender of the oncoming truck. My Mustang bounced off and was hit by the Torino a second time. The drunk either intentionally left his foot on the gas or he was pressing hard on the wrong pedal.

If that oncoming truck hadn't been there, I would have been knocked head-on into a telephone pole and quickly finished a wild 20 to 120 mph and then to dead stop Zero ride -- all in just a few feet.

Instead, my car hood -- sports stripped and custom-taped with the emblem of a running horse and the words 'Steel Stallion' -- popped open and wrapped around the windshield.

BAMM, BAMM, BAMM, and then WHAMM again and again, when the crashing sounds changed from metal to wood and went staccato. I thought I was smashing through a row of front porches.

It turned out that the second impact sent my car knocking down wooden posts like pickets - but these posts were on a rustic fence constructed with six-foot horizontal wooden planks. Floating up in the air like I was, with my face was pressed against the hatchback glass, if the car hood hadn't wrapped around the windshield - those planks could have come through the windsheild glass and impaled me like a worm on a hook.

The Mustang was still flying when I climbed down to the brakes and finally brought it to a stop inside a stand of small trees. The drunk stopped on the road - his car parrallel with mine. When he saw I wasn't moving (I was taking my time checking one body part at a time) he burned rubber away.

At the time, I wondered if someone had intentionally tried to kill me.

My car doors were so jammed that I had to kick the passenger door open. The crowd running toward the scene stopped, frozen in stride, afraid to see what kind of creature might step out of the black Mustang.

When I walked away, the disappointed crowd only loitered long enough to look at the wreckage.

The Hit and Run driver didn't flee the scene very far without a radiator, ditching the car and running into the woods. The police caught up with him at the hospital. Turns out he wasn't wearing a seat belt either, and ate the steering wheel. Last I heard, he'd skipped his court appearance and fled to Oklahoma.

Later, while watching my car being towed away, the officer working the accident hesitated before returning my license. Once I turned and started toward the ambulance, they drove off. When I turned back, the police car drove off. Had to hitch hike home.

HAW056-10 HAW056-11

This 'Before' picture is modeled by Tanya Rene Bradford, 1982.

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Doing the Opposite of Expert Advise

It was raining the next day when my brother Tom dropped me off at a private doctor, who hypthosized that if I'd been strapped in by a seat belt, my neck would have snapped like the car seat bolts had snapped. The head is the heaviest part of the human body, and I wouldn't have had a chance if I'd been buckled in. As it was; my voice sounded like a hoarse Brando whisper from a Godfather movie.

The doctor's advice was for me to stay in bed and off of legs with shinbones blackened from hitting the steering wheel. He'd never seen legs that badly bruised without breaking - which was weird, because I rarely bruise.

When I crossed the street to rent a car with a credit card, the agency told me that my driver's license had expired. Wouldn't you know that this was the one time I didn't get a renewal notice. That explains why the cop hesitated. He was deciding that I'd already had enough trouble at the time.

With no cash and no license, I had less than an hour and several miles to go to make opening time at my bookstore, Collector's Edition, and started hiking in the steady rain. I have to admit that, while I enjoyed taking a shortcut along the railroad tracks, I did wonder the whole way if I might catch pneumonia for doing the exact opposite of doctor's orders. It was during this walk that I conceived of the design for the Brothan Battlewagon in my first Wild Stars comic.

The next day both my legs and throat felt better.

I've always proved the doctors wrong.

After each accident, the circumstances of my medical treatment was bizarre at best.

After the tree incident, a trainee Radiologist at the emergency room zapped me repeatedly, but was never able to provide a clear X-Ray to the doctors. They finally handed me a pain prescription and said that if I could get up and walk away... I could go. They said the shoulder that'd taken the brunt of the impact would become super-bruised, but none ever showed.


Medical Opinions and the Worst Thing That's Ever Happned to Me

The private doctor who examined me next took clearer X-rays - and declared that I should have been put in a body cast.

He then died that weekend of a brain hemorrhage.

Have you ever had to go to a third doctor and ask him which of two previous doctors he would disagree with?

Doctor Number Three made the classic statement of; "I won't say that you have been hurt, and I won't say that you haven't been hurt. But I will tell you that you'll never go another day in your life without pain medication."

I was Twenty-five years old at the time.

When I was Eight, after nearly a year of treatment for leukemia at the K.U. Medical Center in Kansas City, my white corpuscles had eaten my blood platelet count down to the point where I was isolated behind the nurse's station in a room with a glass wall. The doctors stood in the corner by the door and shook their heads, while Mom tightly held my hand and read aloud from the poem, Invictus. When I didn't die, the doctors later told my parents; "Even if he does survive, with the stresses his body has been through, he'll never reach Thirty."

Writing this, I'm Fifty-Four, rarely get sick and, like I said before - after being a 'bleeder' as a child - now rarely bruise.

I refused the third doctor's offer of pain prescriptions and a handicapped parking permit.

Instead... Fate prescribed traumatic physical therapy in the form my back being straightened by the high-impact collision caused by a drunk driver doing over 120 mph. My back actually did feel better after that.

April 15th, 2019 addendum
A couple of years ago, I finally saw neurological and radiological specialists about my back and neck injuries. Their tests revealed that the falling tree had broken seven vertebrae--three in my back, and the other four in my neck, on top of all the other damage I already knew about. I have a small hole in my spinal colun in that same area, and neurological damage with dead spots in my back that can't feel a thing when touched, but are a constant source of pain.

But, despite all the physical pain I'd experienced, the worst hurt that I've ever suffered came from watching someone else's pain, and being unable to stop it.

Headed down the Interstate 67/167 to work, I saw the woman directly in front of me suddenly take her hands off the steering wheel, slide across the seat, and pick her crying baby up out of the car seat. All while her unattended car was doing sixty.

I was in disbelief, thinking about how she had no control over her car at the same moment it veered off the road. Dropping the baby and moving back to the wheel, the driver panicked and slammed her foot on the gas pedal instead of the brakes. Dirt flew from the back tire as she accelerated up a sloping hill.

All she needed to do was calm down and gradually steer her way back down to the highway. Instead, she whipped the steering wheel all the way to the right and her car flipped three times down the slope.

On the last roll, I saw her baby girl fly through the sunroof. I told myself that it might have been a pillow that the car had just landed on top of.

But I knew what I'd seen.

Stopping on the opposite side of the road, I dodged cars while running across the road. Pulling the mother free, I'll never forget seeing her baby child pinned beneath the windshield's glass.

You've heard stories about how people in moments of great trauma can perform inspired acts of strength? No matter how much I tried, I could not single-handedly lift that car. This will always haunt me. Even worse were the faces I saw when turning to look for help.

Both lanes of the highway had filled with cars slowly creeping by while the drivers, like ghouls, drained every moment of pain that they could from the screaming mother.

Demonstrating the immediate need by vainly trying to single-handedly lift a car, I continued to push with my right arm, while I looked further down the line of cars and windmilled my left arm in a plea for help.

Two guys in a truck pulled onto the shoulder and passed traffic. Others finally joined in as we managed to lift the car and pulled the baby clear. The two fellows from the truck rushed the baby to the hospital, while I took the mother. But there was no happy ending. I caught the mother when she collapsed after the doctor smiled and said that she needed to speak with the pastor.

The highway department has since redesigned that section of highway. For several years, I saw tulips growing in a pattern on the wreck site. Last time I looked, a small tree grew there.

Years later, I met the mother again, but she didn't recognize me. Her mother had already told me how she'd suffered from hysterical amnesia.

I didn't say a word. As much as the sight of what happened to that doomed baby girl still haunts me to this day, I can only imagine the horror with which that poor woman lives with each day.

After Arkansas retired the cursed HAW series of license plates, my luck changed for the better. For the next quarter-of-a-century I didn't even suffer as much as a door ding, even though the local roads were declared the U.S. Department of Transportation to be the most dangerous in the United States. And, sure, I've had a lot of close calls, but being as alert as I've learned to be, I've always managed to react quickly enough to avoid bad drivers and road hazards.

During most of that time, I've alternated between a low-riding '89 Pontiac Trans Am and a '92 Chevy Silverado Z-71 truck with a high-sitting off-road package. I've been lucky in choosing when to drive which.

Making Your Own Luck

But in the last couple of years the close calls have become a lot closer. I had one situation where a woman who looked a lot like Esserine tried cutting in front of my truck and slamming the brakes on her Xterra, hoping I'd rear end her. She did this five times in a one mile distance down Maumelle Boulevard. I kept dodging and she kept speeding past and braking in front again, getting steadily angrier about my lack of cooperation.

Just a couple of months ago, another Chevy truck was headed uphill in the opposite direction on a 5-lane section of JFK/Hwy 107, when his spare tire slid out the open tailgate and hit the road bouncing. My first instinct was to brake, but had a tailgater riding so close that I couldn't see his headlights, so I instead tried pumping the brakes and swerved partially into the middle turn lane, somehow barely missing a collision as the truck tire bounced over my right front bumper, ricochetted off the side of the car I was passing on the right, and then bounced once more past my back right corner and crunched the grill and hood of the tailgater. I couldn't have negotiated my truck through that.

And last year I was very lucky that I was driving my truck when a child literally ran into traffic in front of me. Witnesses went on record about how they thought there was no chance that I might see the little girl nor avoid running her over.

One woman told how she prayed for a miracle.

With all the things that have happened to me, I'm hyper-alert when driving. Customers who've seen me have kidded about how I'm always looking around. On this day that habit paid off.

I'd just backed out of the parking lot of a truck stop convenience store and encountered a fellow sitting in his truck, parked facing me in the busy traffic lanes, even though all of the store's parking spaces were empty. After waiting for pedestrian traffic to clear, I put my truck in first gear and started around him. As I passed, I glimpsed one bob of a running child's head over the top of the truck's tailgate.

Instantly yanking myself onto the steering wheel, I threw my entire body weight with both feet onto the clutch and brake pedals and convinced my antilock brakes to do what they're not designed to do, and stopped on a dime.

Broke the steering column.

The seven year old girl ran directly in front of me and was knocked down. One foot was lacerated where my front tire stopped right on the edge of her foot. But other than shock from fright, she suffered no other injuries.

I was devastated about having struck a child. If I'd been riding low in my Trans Am, I couldn't have seen her until too late. The consequences are too disturbing to consider.

After the police talked with all the witnesses, I asked if they needed to talk with me. The officers shook their heads and then each shook my hand, saying;

"You did the best you could with a bad situation."

The girl's father said the same thing. Insurance paid no claim on my report.


Moral of the Story

As lucky as I was in choosing to drive my truck that day, it wouldn't have helped if I'd been wearing my seat belt. If I'd obeyed the mandatory seat belt law, I would've been restrained from throwing my entire body weight onto the brakes.

I couldn't have stopped in time.

As a result of my cumulative experiences, I encourage the use of seat belts for safety at any time, but especially for child passangers or when highway driving. That's when a sudden stop requires restraint.

However, driving secondary roads at lower speeds opens you up to impacts from angles of 360 different degrees, and in these circumstances I do not support the current mandatory seat belt law. The concept sounds good, but the real world often surprises us by not working in the straight-forward manner we expect.

I'm for freedom of choice. Heck, if not wearing a motocycle helmet is an act of choice, wearing a seat belt should also be an adult choice.

Wearing a seat belt can save a life. Choosing when not to wear a seat belt has repeatedly saved my own, and saved me from the horror of taking the life of another.

For me, that last part alone ends the discussion.

To see other dangerous encounters with mother nature and storm tossed trees, check out the Struck by Lightning page.

Struck by Lightning

To see what happens when pine trees are encased in ice and then smacked with a blizzard and high winds, check out further misadventures with inclement weather in White Christmas Apocalypse. This page could easily have been titled Snowmeggedon. May have been a good thing that the lightning strikes cleared out so many trees.

Snow Gazeebo