This past week had taught me a terrible lesson about the fragility of life. One moment someone can be alive and happy and then, in one sudden moment, he can become a lifeless corpse being pulled out of the wreckage of a car perched upside-down on a wall.
One missed goodbye
This past Monday, the 28th of June, 2010, I left my mom’s to what was going to be the first of my last three days of work at Bangkok Post’s Guru Magazine. I left at around noon. On my way out I remember seeing my step dad sitting in the kitchen. I didn’t know that it was going to be the last time that I’ll ever seen him alive. Not wanting to interrupt his morning moment of zen I opted to not say bye to him. I continue to think to this day, “had I just said hello, could things have been different? Would he still be alive today?”
The phone call
Approx. 12:30pm. I get a call from my mother. “Son, please come home. ET has driven the car off the fourth floor and has fallen down”. ET was the nickname I made for him many years back which somehow stuck and became his standard moniker over the years. It stands for “Emperor Tadaaki”. His name was Tadaaki Okada. His suave sense of style combined with his very proper personality probably inspired that nickname. Even to this day, the user name on his personal computer in our home is “ET”.
Shocked, I asked her, “what do you mean?”
Shaken, she replied, “ET, he has driven off the building can you please come home?” She sounded weak. Her voice which usually projected strength and confidence was replaced by a terrified whimper. We live in an apartment building. His car had driven off the parking on the fourth floor while getting his car washed.
By the time I was at mom’s in Sukhumvit soi 11, I was greeted with a crowd. The news reporters and photographers had appeared in hope of snapping photos of the wreckage. Even some of the photographers from the Bangkok Post were there. It was around 12:50pm and they were already in their ready positions as rescue workers tried to figure out what to do.
On my way home I kept praying and hoping that the car had landed on its nose and minimized the impact. I kept hoping that my step dad would be okay and this would just be a funny incident that we could all laugh at in the near future over some drinks.
It gets worse
Things could not have been worse. The car had landed upside down with two walls cut through the middle. Among the swarm of news reporters, rescue workers and bystanders there was my mom, sitting there, face covered in tears. We sat together for about three hours unsure of the situation. Is he alive? Is he in pain? Is he dead? We kept asking ourselves these questions fearing the worst but hoping for a miracle. I stayed strong for her, sitting beside my crying mother. No one wanted to tell us what was going on as we awaited the fate of Tadaaki Okada who was suspended upside down, two meters above, in his wrecked car.
Fellow tenants kept approaching us, sending us their condolences. Bless them.
After about three hours he was finally pulled out of the wreckage onto the other side of the wall. The reporters, the news hunters started snapping his picture while we had to drive around the block to get to the other side.
His body was miraculously intact save for his head which had turned purple from hanging upside down for three hours. The autopsy report showed that the crushed car had pressed him into a position where the steering wheel had pressed onto his windpipes. Some of the possible causes of death could include brain hemorrhage from the falling impact or suffocation via the steering wheel. Whatever it was, he was dead. There were no doubts now as he lay motionless on the stretcher, his mouth hanging open. My mother, her two housekeepers and myself all dropped to our knees besides my step father.
My mother grabbed a small figurine from her bag. “Darling, this is your favourite Buddha, you can now take it to heaven with you”, she said as her trembling hands placed the wooden figurine beside his lifeless corpse. Then we all cried like we had never cried before. I cried so much there were eventually drops of blood in my tears. Mom wailed on, crying over how they were only months away from their twentieth anniversary together and how wonderful he was to her.
He was gone. The people around us were already trying to suggest that it was suicide. People were already pointing fingers.
Let’s clear a few points
I’D LIKE TO MAKE IT VERY CLEAR: Tadaaki Okada had a phobia of death. He did everything to live longer than his father who died of leukemia. Half of our home fridge is still filled with his multi-vitamins. Every day the 59-year-old man would spend at least two hours in the gym just to keep the Reaper away.
The moment he died
On the morning of his death he went with our two maids to wash two cars, the Audi and the Honda CRV, a lower-powered SUV. After getting the Audi washed, Tadaaki parked it on the side. The SUV was parked on the slope going down. This badly placed slope went straight down into the car washing zone. The only thing separating the cars from the plunge of death was a short concrete barricade roughly half the height of a regular car wheel. There was also a metal railing but it was not properly reinforced into the walls and could be loosened with a single solid kick. Its metal was rusty and eroded by the daily car washes. There is also an over-sized non-regulated speed hump that separated the car washing area from the rest of the parking.
When Tadaaki drove his car down the slope he lost control. He over accelerated. He tried to stop but the wet floor made it impossible. His car then hit the speed hump which made the car jump right into the flimsy metal barricade. For a second the car teetered on the short concrete barricade. According to several eye witnesses, including our maid and some of the other drivers in the area, in this short moment Tadaaki tried to reverse the car but it was no use. The 1999 Honda CRV was a front wheel drive. The car then flipped forward and plunged upside-down onto the concrete wall.
He wanted to live longer than his father
Tadaaki was in no way suicidal. Suicidal people don’t wash one car one moment and then kill themselves the next. Suicidal people don’t put the gear in reverse. AND SUICIDAL PEOPLE DON’T SPEND HOURS DAILY TRYING TO LIVE LONGER.
Knowing his great fear of death I could only barely imagine the fear that must have gone through his mind when he was literally teetering on the brink of mortality. What would you do if you were to know that you had seconds to live?
It gets worse. Tadaaki’s father died at the age of 61. Despite all his hard efforts to outlive his father, Tadaaki died at 59.
It could all have been avoided
It gets even worse. Later that evening, news reports revealed that this was not the first time a car had busted through the barricades. The first incident happened when a car parked on neutral gear slid down the slope and broke through. The second incident involved a woman breaking through the barricade on the seventh floor. In both cases the cars teetered on that short concrete barricade but did not fall down. Both cars were also not front-heavy SUVs either.
The question I ask is if it has already happened twice, why has nothing been done about it since? Why was the building’s budget allocated only to aesthetic upgrades rather than to safety enhancements? Why did our ET have to die?