Thank You, Thanks

What You Do When Disaster Strikes


Last minute arrival.

March 31, at 6:10pm central time a 2006 black Acura sped out of control on Butterfield Road next to our house. Witnesses in front of the car saw it weave across three lanes from their rear view mirror.

Abruptly the car turned hard to the right and side-slipped 75 feet across our lawn hitting the back corner of our bedroom. It did not come to a halt. Rather, the vehicle and occupants continued through the brick wall, spun 90 degrees in the bedroom, and drove through the bathroom, grinding to a stop half way through our living room.


Perfect targeting avoided the fence and the stop sign.

Moments before that we had sat down in the living room to watch the new springtime sun set over the row of budding trees beyond our bay window. It would be the last peaceful scene we would see for weeks.

At the moment of impact, we were stunned by the deafening explosion. Our first thought was a falling plane, or perhaps a meteorite had crushed the house. Then the wall of the living room imploded before us, pushing couch and armoire ahead of it, and blasting a framed picture across the wall to land on our other couch. Glass, plaster, wood and dust everywhere.

Running down the hallway to the bedroom, we looked in, and there was a clear view of the highway. The entire wall was gone.

I could have written about this incident months ago, but decided to hold off until the dust had settled, and not just literally. While I don’t recommend this approach to understanding the role of first responders, I can say we learned a lot about what to do when disaster strikes you, or someone else.


Passengers were extracted by Libertyville’s first responders. The child in the back seat only had a scratch over her eye.

So this is what you do when you are the object of the disaster.

1. Are you okay? Apparently we were, because we both jumped from our seats and looked around. No pain, no numbness, and no bleeding. The fact was, we weren’t touched, but certainly shocked.

2. Anybody else around? Once we saw the rear of the car in our bathroom, it was pretty clear we weren’t alone, but there was no way to get near the car with the tangle of rubble, conduits, joists and furniture blocking the path.

3. Call 911. Did that immediately. First item: name and address. Closest intersection. Phone number. Bring a couple of ambulances, a car crashed through the house. Stay on the line. Literally within two minutes the Libertyville police were knocking at our door, and the fire department appeared moments later. It turned out that an officer had just driven past our house on the highway when he heard an explosion. Looking in his rear view mirror a plume of white smoke blossomed over our yard, and he knew something was up.


Road repairs this summer–check the new boulders as our first line of defense.

4. Shut everything down. It became obvious to us pretty quickly that professional first responders know the routine, and we were the lucky beneficiaries of their experience.

In the next ten minutes, the gas was turned off. The power was cut. It took a little longer to get to the water, but that was turned off too.

5. Follow orders. Despite our own assessment, we really were more shook up and addled than we knew. That’s when the police and fire fighters stepped up. They kept us away from the house, pending a careful review of its structure. It could cave in. Or blow up. As things turned out, the building was stable despite missing one corner, and the presence of a 3,600 pound car resting on the main floor.  Kudos to the architect who designed this house.

6. Call insurance. Quite amazing… the fire department chief asked for our carrier and he had their speed dial on his phone. We were hooked up with our “good neighbor” State Farm, in seconds. A few moments later, our fire chief also provided a list of company names to manage the board-up of our house. After picking one from a list of ten, a truck of workers arrived 30 minutes later with a load of plywood to board up the missing wall of our house.


The business side of the Acura. Our CDs were found under the dashboard.

7. Take pictures. Thank goodness for digital photography. We took over 100 pictures on our own from every angle. These became invaluable later on for filing claims, identifying lost articles, piecing objects together.

The insurance claims adjusters request a digital picture of everything lost or damaged. My advice to you now is to photograph your entire house and contents, wall by wall, ceiling to floor.  It’s easy, and effective.

8. Think big. When it comes to placing a value on that couch you bought 25 years ago, it’s worth a trip to the furniture store first. Our homeowner’s policy provided for replacement value. But something that cost $1,000 in 1990 probably costs $3,000 now. Take your time filing your claims, and get the numbers right first.


Home renos on the horizon. The wall imploded around us.

9. Rationalize. When fate strikes a blow, there is an urge to blame someone, especially when other people are involved. The fact is, the driver had blanked out due to an attack. Nobody’s fault to speak of.

Looked at another way, the car could have left the road ten yards earlier, or later, with no serious consequences to anyone.  Let it go.  If you have retribution beyond repair compensation on your mind, get your legal gown out, because you will be in court for a long time.

10. Keep notes. We kept a diary of daily developments during the recovery from the crash. Six months of hand written notes recording names of workers, dates, what happened. These can be useful for insurance purposes but just as important, it telegraphs to the hundreds of people who are in your home that you know them, and care about what they are doing.


Masterful repairs by the contractors. We saved and re-used over 1,300 bricks.

11. Be private. Within 30 minutes of the big boom, we had a Channel 5 helicopter hovering over our home. Reporters were lined up across the street interviewing neighbors. That was because the police chief asked if we wanted the media on the property. No thanks, not tonight, actually.

Next day, the newspaper crew came by, and in the light of day, it was easier to tell the story, complete with pictures. The resulting publicity is electric, with news feeds delivering your story to people nationwide.

12. Be gracious. Human nature is that we all like to stand on our own feet. Accepting help is a weakness.


A subtle return to the old look with new bricks.

But the fact is, help is the best medicine for the giver and the recipient alike.

Our neighbors demanded we use their spare bedroom, We took it. Others demanded we come to dinner. We did. Strangers came up to us in town and asked after our well being. Hugs and handshakes.

One very concerned and generous lady–whom we did not know–came by to give us a Panera gift card. The meal was excellent. Another thoughtful neighbor counseled us on insurance claims. We needed it.


Libertyville’s first responders performed flawlessly, and quickly.

The lesson we learned over six months is that people want and need to help. Our job as the injured party is to take it, and treasure it, which we did.

The fact is, every time someone extended a hand, we were flushed with encouragement, and I think they felt better themselves too.

Now, everything is just about back to normal, eight months later.  We don’t recommend this experience to anyone, but for all of that, we are thankful for the way things turned out.

Never ignore the opportunity to help someone, or to make the effort to check them out.  There’s no downside to it!