The world froze as a small group of people huddled around the back of the car leaning on each other for support. You couldn’t tell where one ended and the other began, and you got the feeling that each wouldn’t be able to support him/herself alone.

Cars didn’t pass by on the seawall, lights on top of emergency vehicles flashed and emergency workers stood a respectful distance back and showed no sign of having something more important to go to.

It was a significant moment that altered the course of several lives. It was a moment frozen in time that seemed to be too short and to stretch into eternity.

Stories within stories.

It seems like all anyone was talking about around town that week several years ago was the terrible wreck on the seawall that resulted in the tragic death of a man from Michigan. The Daily News did an excellent job of describing the event, but there was another story beneath the story.

I was on my way into work a little after 7 a.m. and happened to be only a couple of blocks away when the call went out on the radio about the wreck. When I got there, it took a moment to take it all in and figure out what had happened and how many people were involved.

One man lay wounded on the seawall with his head cradled in another’s lap. Another lay in the rocks on the beach, not breathing. A smoking, battered truck was mangled and wedged between rocks on one side and was halfway up the seawall on the other. A man was trapped inside screaming.

It was terrible.

As other emergency responders arrived and we went to work sorting it out, we noticed two women and two children just down the beach. They didn’t realize it yet, but they had each just lost a father, husband or grandfather.

Some of the most real moments we face are when life comes into or leaves this world. There are those that aren’t afraid to face these moments and reach across barriers to touch another life when it’s most difficult and most needed. Battalion Chief Gary Staudt of the Galveston Fire Department intuitively knew there was no greater priority and reached through the normal psychological barriers and offered support without reservation.

David Mitchell, Sheila Savage, Marilyn Schwartz and Ted Hanley, of the Jesse Tree Survivor Support Network, discreetly brought a tent, food, drinks and support for what ended up being about 10 relatives that had come to Galveston together. Randy Burrows, from the medical examiner’s office, stretched protocol to allow the family to do the last rites before the body was taken to the morgue.

There were others with the local police, fire, EMS and outside agencies called in to help that also reached out to the family as they performed their duties.

A terrible and beautiful moment frozen in time. A story within a story. A time to show what it is to be human.

Peter Davis is chief of the Galveston Island Beach Patrol. The views in this column are Davis’ and do not necessarily represent those of the Beach Patrol, Galveston Park Board of Trustees or any other entity.


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(1) comment

C. Patterson

Touching and moving piece!

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