Knipfing’s Notes: The Fast and the Furiously Dead

April 27th, 2013 at 9:00 am by under Latest Posts

Lee Rista was his name. I’ve never forgotten it.

He was the first dead person I ever saw outside of a funeral.

A middle-aged California man, he was killed in a car crash between Albuquerque and Santa Fe in July of 1963.

Rista’s car had run off the highway and into the side of an embankment near San Felipe Pueblo.

Rista’s car didn’t have a seat-belt – not uncommon in 1963.  He hit the steering wheel hard enough to cause fatal chest injuries.

In those days long before yellow tape, reporters could walk right up to a car crash or a  crime scene.

And that’s what I did, a young reporter getting a good hard look at this man, slumped over the wheel – dead.

I still think of him every time I go by that site.

In 1963 TV news covered a lot of car crashes.  Sometimes five or six in a single program, so I saw a lot of dead, dying and hurting people.  But some, like Lee Rista, stick with you more than others.

Years later there was another tragic crash that still stands out in my mind.  A car carrying five or six construction workers was headed south on Coors Road in southwest Albuquerque.  A road grader was moving slowly, also south, on the shoulder of the highway.  The grader’s blade was protruding into traffic lanes.  The car full of construction workers hit the blade, spun out of control and into northbound lanes of traffic hitting an oncoming car head on.

Both cars and most of the people in them were demolished.  There were no cars left – just pieces.

To this day I still remember a car engine sitting off by itself some distance from the crash site.

The people who died, I can’t remember offhand out many, looked like broken dolls.  Their limbs at odd angles and facial features grotesquely rearranged.  This memory came back to me this week after a crash that has left three dead and the driver barely hanging on to life.

Witnesses say the driver was speeding and trying to race another car when he lost control near Central and Louisiana and flew across the street hitting several trees and a statue.   According to those witnesses, just before the crash, he had been gunning the engine at a stoplight, took off like a shot, got up to speed, lost it and then, catastrophe.

While plenty has changes since 1963 the immutable laws of physics have not – force still equals mass times acceleration. The force when human flesh and bone hit or are hit by objects with major mass usually means major problems for the owners of the flesh and bone.

Cars are a lot safer these days – we have seat belts, air bags and roll bars – but perhaps these cars have been too comfortable.

Today we also have so much creature comfort in our cars that we feel like we’re in our home theater instead of inside a large, fast moving and heavy object. Grim as it is to hear all this, it’s good to be reminded once in a while of crash consequences.

Sometimes accidents just happen, there’s nothing we can do about them. But crashes are often caused by things we can control.

Like the briefing sergeant on the old cop show “Hill Street Blues” always told his patrol officers as they left for their daily assignments, “Hey, let’s be careful out there.”

3 Responses to “Knipfing’s Notes: The Fast and the Furiously Dead”

  1. Juan Chaves y Chavez says:

    The difference today is that we have more drunk and stoned jerks on the road.
    Not to mention the idiots texting.
    And then there are the pond scum who just dont care and drive like maniacs.

  2. George R Knipfing says:

    Knipfing’s Notes: The Fast and the Furiously Dead

    50 years ago. A sad reflection, and good reminders, from my Cousin d*** Knipfing.

    I will be celebrating a couple of 50 year anniversaries in JUNE. In 1963 I graduated from Mount St. Mary’s University in Maryland, and a couple of weeks later married my teenaged sweetheart, Tricia. A week or so later, just after the 4th of July, we started my tour in the Marine Corps.

    “…, let’s be careful out there.”

    George R. Knipfing

  3. Juan Chavez y Chavez says:

    George,
    Congratulations on your fifty year anniversaries.

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