To most of the people who were stuck in traffic on the afternoon of July 9 on Cimmaron Drive, the minivan that had crashed on its side seemed to be completely unrelated to the house fire down the road. It was a terrible coincidence.
A rescue worker on the scene told me when I arrived that the van had crashed after the traffic from the house fire down the road had been allowed to start moving again.
In the grass next to the crashed minivan were a man and two young children, possibly his own son and daughter. The children were crying, clearly shaken up. Booster seats from the car lay in the swale.
The street was blocked at both ends of the scene, so I kept walking to see what was happening at the other end, a few hundred yards away. Bloated, yellow fire hoses lay along the side of the road, making a trail from one fire engine to the next. Several Sheriff’s Office vehicles were parked, as well, with lights flashing.
At 37 Cimmaron Drive, the front door had been removed and was leaning against the front of the house. The casual body language of a few firefighters outside the house was evidence that the fire was already out. Across the street, I could see a hole in the roof.
A resident, Jennie Garris, said she heard the thunder earlier. “I thought it was my house that got struck,” she recalled. “My fingers were numb and tingling. It was the weirdest thing.”
The family was in a panic until Garris’ son noticed that smoke was billowing from the roof of the home across the street, at 37 Cimmaron. A neighbor called 911, and fire trucks arrived. Traffic was blocked, about 20 cars deep. After the rain ended, it was bright and muggy out, and residents and drivers stood on the side of the road talking on cell phones.
I walked back toward the minivan that had crashed and asked more questions of the rescue workers. Deputy Fire Chief Jerry Forte said it had been a wild afternoon, to say the least.
The lightning storm had resulted in at least three structure fires and three brush fires, all within a few hours. A shed in the back of a house at 30 Boulder Rock Drive was hit by lightning at 2:50 p.m. Suite 101 at 3 Pine Cone Drive was hit at 2:51 p.m., and then the attic of the home on Cimmaron at 3:45 p.m. Brush caught fire near The Home Depot, as well as on Red Oak Place and on Pine Grove Drive.
I also learned that the minivan had five passengers. The mother and another child had been transported away, with minor injuries.
Before I left the scene, I happened upon a small, purple pillow with an image of Tinker Bell on the front. It was across the street from the van, but it seemed likely it belonged to one of the kids.
I crossed the street again and jumped over the wet swale, where the man was sitting with the children. An officer in a black polo shirt was helping the man fill out paperwork of some kind, so I didn’t want to bother them.
The young girl, probably about 4 years old, looked up with fear in her eyes. I got the feeling that she was being brave and had been trying not to cry anymore — her cheeks were dirty from tears she had already let fall.
“Is this yours?” I asked.
She nodded at my question, so I handed her the pillow. Then her tears began to pour from her eyes. The dam had burst. She lay the pillow on her father’s lap and lay down, crying.
It was a haunting image that I have kept in my mind ever since.
The next morning, a resident emailed me a few photos of the house after it was struck by lightning. I’m not sure how he found out, but he also said marijuana plants were found in the home, and it was a grow house. Quite the twist of fate, I thought, that a home with an illegal operation inside would be struck by lightning.
So, I emailed Deputy Paula Priester, of the Sheriff’s Office, to ask if there was any information about 37 Cimmaron being a grow house. I also asked for the crash report involving the minivan.
But as it turns out, the names of the family are not being released. Here’s the email I received from Priester:
“The home on Cimmaron Drive was struck by lightning. It was then discovered that multiple small marijuana plants were inside the home along with drug paraphernalia (unknown what type of paraphernalia). This was not a ‘grow house’ or ‘grow operation.’”
Then, the big shocker:
“The van involved in the crash happens to be the residents of that house. 2 adults and 3 children. Due to the road being blocked, they attempted to make a u-turn and the vehicle either turned on its side or flipped (I haven’t been able to confirm that). There are pending charges of manufacturing cannabis and possession of drug paraphernalia. We are not releasing the names just yet as this case is still active and under investigation.”
Wow. It’s hard to know what to make of this story now.
Do we assume the family was running because they assumed they’d get arrested for drugs, and that’s why they crashed? Do we conclude that the victims are not always the victims?
We could speculate about a lot of things, I suppose, but based on the twists of the story so far, it's safe to say that we still don't know all the elements.
But I know of at least one victim for sure: the little girl with the Tinker Bell pillow. I pray she — and her family — will be comforted, whatever the names and circumstances.