Coherent geezers from my generation should remember the song, “Dead Man’s Curve” by Jan and Dean. This popular tune reached number eight on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1964.
Lyrics tell about a Corvette and a Jaguar racing on the street late one night. When they arrive at Dead Man’s Curve, unfortunately, the driver of the Jag can’t make the turn and skids off the highway. Evidently the guy didn’t survive.
When I lived in Alaska, we had our own Dead Man’s Curve in Anchorage. I had several encounters with that stretch of road: some intentional and a couple of them accidental. Our deadly curve was on Jewel Lake Road close to the airport.
The speed limit on this curve was 35 mph. Friends of mine attempted to double that speed going through it, me included. The closest I ever came was 60. I suppose a Corvette or Jaguar could’ve easily done so at 70. Mercury, Chevrolet, and Dodge automobiles I drove back then didn’t have great handling ability.
I witnessed quite a few collisions at that location. Most of them were in the winter with drivers losing control and hitting the guardrail. That protective barrier on the curve was always battered and had to be replaced often.
In 1977, I was managing my father’s automotive parts store in the Jewel Lake area. I received a call from the police that our parts runner, Helen, had been involved in an accident. Quickly heading to the area, firetrucks, ambulances, and police cars were blocking lanes both directions. Parking my vehicle, I walked a half-mile to get to the wreck. It was directly in the middle of Dead Man’s Curve.
The small Ford Courier pickup that Helen drove was sliced into two large pieces. The front cab was in one location, and the bed with rear tires was in another. Parts destined for my store were scattered everywhere.
A large car had t-boned her after it lost traction. Helen was carefully extracted from the carnage. It was a good thing because later on I learned she had a broken back. Police said it was a miracle the young woman wasn’t killed.
At this time, it was the most serious accident I’d come across at this locale. I was told by a friend, years previous, that the graphic name came from several individuals having been killed there over time. Little did I know I’d be witness to another.
My wife worked at a building perhaps three miles from Dead Man’s Curve. Often, I’d pick her up on my days off and we’d go to lunch. In September 1985, Joleen and I were cruising to Godfather’s Pizza in Jewel Lake. I remember it being cold and drizzly.
As we came upon the curve, I saw a truck out of control sliding our direction. The driver was desperately fighting for control of the rig. I hit the gas and we went sailing across a ditch just before the guardrail began.
A Chevrolet Chevette in front of us wasn’t as fortunate. It was in the apex of the curve and this metal guardrail allowed it no escape.
Our Chevy Blazer bounced before coming to a stop. I checked to see if Joleen was okay, before jumping out and running towards the other vehicles. A lifted, 3/4-ton Ford nailed the smaller Chevette square center. I was first to reach the automobile and found its driver dead. Others soon arrived and removed him. There was nothing paramedics could do. The teenagers in the truck were shaken up but okay. Had Joleen and I not left the road, this truck would’ve struck us as well.
Approximately one year later, I was called to testify at a court hearing. Attorneys for the deceased had large photos of the accident scene to help in their wrongful death lawsuit. I was asked to show the court the place where I first spotted this pickup out of control. When I pointed to an area well before the curve, an attorney said that would’ve been impossible.
“Trees would’ve obstructed your view!”, a lawyer chimed in.
The man was right. All I could say to him was,
“That’s where I saw it.”
Over the years I’ve told several people this story. A few mentioned that we were lucky that morning. I politely listened to them, but in my mind, I knew it was a power much greater than luck, giving me the ability to see for a split second through those trees.
- Because of so many terrible accidents, the radius of this deadly curve was eventually changed for the better.