Pit Stops on The Road Of Life

Dead Guy In The Back Seat

It was the summer of 1967, my last summer in college, and the only one I’d spent at home. My high school buddy, Ken Ellsworth, was home from Penn State. We sought entertainment at Pocono Downs, a standard bred horse racing track in Wilkes-Barre, PA. We knew of nowhere else where one could have so much fun for $2. We’d lay down our bets, jump up and down and cuss for a period of two minutes and then, about twenty minutes later, do it all over again.

The racing card had ended with the usual result for us—we’d lost about $15 each. The parking lot at Pocono Downs was a veritable zoo. With no travel lanes painted on its surface, cars jostled helter-skelter at all angles, funneling down into the two lanes that exited onto Route 315. Long before the funneling started, we found our car (Ken’s) grinding to a halt. Two cars in front of us, a driver had apparently stalled out and it wasn’t safe to try to go around it, what with cars whizzing by us on all sides. Horn blowing didn’t work so, after a decent interval, Ken climbed out to walk up to the driver and see what his problem was. He soon came running back, exclaiming "That poor bugger is slumped over the wheel !!" I climbed out, confirmed what he saw, and decided "There must be an ambulance around here somewhere in case of racing accidents."

Dodging traffic, I ran back to the grandstand and knocked on the nearest door. The office workers told me that, since the evening’s card had ended, the ambulance had probably left but they paged it anyway. They were right—no ambulance, but a nurse did show up. I quickly explained the emergency and we headed back to the car. One would think that drivers, upon seeing two persons, one wearing a white uniform, running across traffic, they’d cut us some slack. Wrong! We took our life into our hands.

Arriving back at the car, the nurse reached in to feel for a pulse but found none. The poor fella was totally non-responsive so we lifted him out of the car and laid him on the pavement. I fully expected the nurse to administer CPR but she didn’t do a darned thing for him! To this day, I still can’t understand her lack of action. Neither Ken nor I knew CPR but, heck, she was a TRAINED professional who didn’t even TRY to save him. The only thing to do was to rush him to a hospital. We decided to take him in his own car, so Ken and I finagled him into the back seat. Ken pushed on his legs and I pulled on his shoulders and backed inside. Ken drove, the nurse rode shotgun, and I was in the back seat with the patient, his head on my lap.

The nearest hospital was the VA Hospital but we weren’t sure the guy was a vet and, thus, whether they’d accept him. The nurse should have had knowledge enough to say "It doesn’t matter—any hospital will accept an emergency case" but she remained mute. We decided to head for the General Hospital. Having learned from many TV shows, we ran every red light, trying to attract a police escort. As usual, you couldn’t find a cop when you needed one. All along the ride, Ken kept asking "How’s he doing?" My reply would be something like "I’ve been smacking him in the face and he doesn’t respond. I lifted his eyelids and I can’t see any eye movement. His chest isn’t moving."

The ER personnel quickly declared the guy to be a DOA. His wallet ID’ed him as 64 years old, from Nanticoke, and totally broke. Our theory was that the poor bugger had blown, as Roger Miller said, "the groceries and half the rent, like fourteen dollars and twenty seven cents" on the horses. The stress of reporting this back to his wife had undoubtedly induced a coronary.

I don’t recall how we got back to the track to retrieve Ken’s car. He and I and the nurse probably shared a cab. It’s now been 39 years since that event but I’ve never forgotten it. Had you ever asked me "Can you imagine yourself in the back seat with a dead guy’s head on your lap?", I’d have answered in the negative. To the extent that very few others have likely experienced such an event, I felt it worthy of mention.

Ronald E. Hontz

33 Whitcraft Lane

Shrewsbury PA 17361

(717) 235-5791

cell phone (717) 309-1402

e-mail: Sweetvalleykid@gmail.com