I begged for the tennis ball to stop before going into the street.
Driving Friday evening on 500 East, I passed 600 South when from the corner of my right eye I saw the ball leave the man’s hand. He had thrown a tennis ball for his waiting black lab. The yard was hidden from the street by parked cars but the ball found its way through and into the street. I was in the middle of rush hour traffic just trying to get to work. Following the ball’s trajectory, the large black lab darted out and was blindsided by a small red coupe. Crumbling under the front right tire, the dog was thrown into the air.
He landed hard. Too hard for any animal. But whether by adrenaline, fear, instinct or all of the above, the dog picked himself up and ran a distance before falling to the asphalt in front of the stopped cars.
I had already shifted my foot from the accelerator to the brake when I saw the ball thrown. I hoped for the best but knew the moment when I lost the ball in the yard that something bad was going to happen.
The driver of the red coupe never had the chance to stop.
The dog getting struck was horrific. It was violent and terrifying. It didn’t happen in slow motion like most tragedies but in real time. The ball slipped through the parked cars, bounced two or three times in the street and the red coupe collided with the dog.
I had come to a complete stop.
My window was open and I heard both the sound of the dog being crushed and the screaming owner. He darted through the stopped cars directly in front of me and slammed with both hands the trunk of the red coupe. He yelled obscenities and pounded the car repeatedly, demanding the driver get out.
I watched open-mouthed as he moved to the driver’s side. In the distance, the dog was cradled by a woman, presumably the man’s girlfriend, in the middle of the street as a diminished woman got out of the red coupe. He kept yelling, “My dog, my dog,” as the driver looked accidentally helpless to me. I start to put my truck into park to help her when a carnival of lights exploded behind me. A police squad car had thrown their lights on and blasted their sirens.
I never noticed the squad car behind me and was surprised that law enforcement took position behind me so quickly. It wasn’t until later did I realize the cop was cruising behind me the entire time. Looking out the rearview mirror, I saw a second police car with lights blazing as the cop behind me kept hitting his horn at me. Severing eye contact with the red coupe driver, I moved into oncoming traffic slowly and moved past the driver. The man continued to yell, scream and swear and never looking at me as I crept by. The lights on top of the squad cars blinded me as I headed north past the dog.
The woman held the damaged dog. The black lab squirmed in pain as she tried to calm him but I knew it was fruitless. I can only imagine what little was going through that poor animal thoughts as he flopped helplessly. She probably lied to him and said it was going to be okay.
I’m certain the man and the woman were enjoying beers in the early autumn evening and giving the dog a thrill as he shagged the tennis ball. As he returned each thrown ball, the man pushed his luck, throwing it further and further each time. He will regret that last throw of the ball for a long time as it snuck through the thick, untrimmed grass, between the parked cars and into the street. There is no way he intended the ball to go as far as it did and his heart sank when he saw it dribble onto 500 East. Everything must have stopped in dread as he saw the black lab, his single-minded pet not wanting to disappoint him, break through the cars and get hit by the front right tire of a stranger’s car.
I couldn’t draw a full breath for nearly an hour.
I felt drained. Helpless. Sad.
I wanted to reprimand the man for his careless throw and nearly inexcusable behavior to the driver of the red coupe. I wanted the driver of the red coupe to have paid more attention and stopped just an millisecond faster. I wanted that damn black lab to be safe.
More than anything, I wanted to have never witness a dog get hit by a car.
I went through work that night in a daze, looking often at my watch and counting the minutes that I could go home. There hasn’t been a night that I don’t rush home to see Erin—to give her a kiss and tell her about my shift. I look forward to hearing about her day as she fights to go back to bed and tells me it’s too late. Coming home early Saturday morning, for the first time, Erin wasn’t on my mind. I wanted to see my dogs Shelly and Sunflower. To give them a treat, a scratch and watch them go outside in the chilly night. I wanted to pick them up and tell them to never go into the street.
There is nothing better than having your dogs meet you at the door when you get home. It’s enough to make sure you drive home safe to meet them.
I don’t know if my narrative of what the man and woman is true but it helps contextualize what happened. Mistakes are made and consequences can be deadly.
I truly feel sorry for all parties involved with this incident.
Ben Raskin bartends at Keys On Main Wednesday through Saturday. Follow him on Twitter @BennyRaskin. Listen to the podcast, Trib Sports Radio. He gave Shelly an extra biscuit when he got home that night.