How are they stopped? They hit people like me: Patrick Weir recalls his feelings the night he encountered joyriders

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Indy Lifestyle Online
IT'S 10.50pm and the usually busy junction is deserted. I have barely passed through the green light when a harsh slamming sound rips through the car. Simultaneously I am aware of being propelled sideways and just as suddenly coming to a stop.

My mind registers nothing save for the vague notion that something untoward has happened. I hear raised voices and, looking in my mirror, can make out two or three dark figures running into the distance. My door is opened and a police officer asks me if I'm OK. 'I think so,' I reply. He tells me to sit still for a minute.

Patrol cars and an ambulance seem to have materialised out of nowhere, flashing lights illuminating the night like fireworks. A paramedic asks me if I'm in any pain. I reply that I'm not and he proceeds to unclip my seat belt and help me out of the car. My legs feel weak, but I assure him that I can walk. As he escorts me to the ambulance, I notice a police officer redirecting traffic and momentarily feel - ridiculous as it seems - a childlike excitement at being part of this colourful drama. Nearer the ambulance, I happen to look back at my car and my legs nearly give way as I struggle to recognise it in its crushed state. I also realise that it has ended up in another lane, facing in the opposite direction to my route home.

I still don't know exactly what has happened. As I step into the ambulance, I'm told to lie down by another paramedic but reply that I'm OK, really, and would prefer to sit. He checks me over and although I'm not in any pain and can move my head, arms and legs, it's deemed wise that I'm taken to hospital for a more thorough examination. He then tells me how lucky I've been and asks if I saw the other car coming. I tell him that I didn't see anything.

'You've been hit by joyriders. They were being chased by the police for over five miles and went through God knows how many red lights before hitting you. You're lucky to be alive.'

I ask if I can smoke and he says I can if I sit outside on the ambulance steps. I realise that my cigarettes are in my car and he offers me a couple of his.

A police officer is still redirecting traffic, and as I sit smoking I feel nothing but the light drizzle which has begun to fall. In the distance I see another police officer and two or three ambulance crew approaching. The paramedic asks me to put out my cigarette and sit down in the ambulance. He also tells me that I'll have to share the ambulance with one of the joyriders. I suddenly feel anger for the first time.

A skinny youth, in some pain, is helped up the steps. He doesn't notice me as he is laid on the opposite stretcher. Two paramedics attend to him while the police officer handcuffs one of his wrists to a rail. He is spitting blood and complaining to the disgruntled officer. The paramedics remain conspicuously calm as he writhes and swears. My anger increases with his every moan. I gaze at the floor for the rest of the journey and gradually numbness replaces the hate.

At the hospital I'm given the all clear but told to expect pain due to whiplash. From behind curtains in the adjoining bed the youth is still moaning. The police officer appears and says I'll be glad to know he's in considerable pain. I appreciate, but somehow can't share, the sentiment.

Giving my statement to another officer before I leave, I'm told that the driver of the stolen car got away, one passenger (17) has been killed and the moaner (also 17) is likely to lose a kidney. I really couldn't care. The officer adds that had I been hit a second later - on my door, as opposed to the front off side of the car - I wouldn't have survived. I also learn that the stolen car was travelling at more than 70mph and after hitting me flew 10ft into the air before crashing into a lamp-post and flipping over three times.

I remain unmoved by these details. All I can contemplate is my awful luck in being in the wrong place at the wrong time, at my being a victim - of sorts - of a terrifying social scourge which has claimed so many innocent lives. My immense good fortune in surviving simply doesn't register. I know the answer, but still ask the question.

'How are these kids usually stopped when they're driving so fast?'

'When they hit people like you,' replies the officer.

The next day my car is shown on the regional news and, as delayed shock sets in, I'm starting seriously to count my blessings. Coming as close as I did to meeting my maker is taking an unexpected emotional toll. I learn that the 22-year-old driver of the stolen Cavalier has been arrested. Curiously, no mention is made of whether the driver of the written-off Austin Metro survived or not.

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