Instant karma’s gonna get you

Everyday people die on Chiang Mai’s roads with very little accountability nor action taken to remedy and lessen this tragedy

By | Mon 14 Sep 2020

A sad but true story, I witnessed it today.

The focus of my city walk today was to get to the railway station by small streets and work my way back in the same way, making a loop, around ten kilometres. First stop was a cheap khao soy, spicy chicken soup with noodles, for an early lunch at a local market.

Lunch eaten, I continued my walk to the station along a busy minor road, full of traffic and pedestrians shopping around the market. Meandering at a slow pace, glancing into shops and cafes, I suddenly heard a deep thump, and seconds later saw a black Volvo sedan from around the turn of the century, one of the big, boxy models, racing along with a crunched up bonnet, far too fast for the street. My immediate thought was, “He’s doing a runner!” confirmed when I turned around and saw a badly smashed up motor-scooter lying in the middle of the road.

The scooter was lying next to another on its stand, so I just assumed the car had run into a couple of badly parked bikes. And then I saw a crowd gathering, the object of their attention being the body of a young woman lying stretched out across the road, her face covered by long, black hair. There was no physical movement and no blood, but having owned a similar vehicle years ago, and knowing they were built like a tank, if the poor girl had been hit by the Volvo her chances of survival were slight. It’s curious how the mind fixes on certain points at a time like that. I noticed that the right shoe was missing and the white sock on her foot had been pulled down her leg onto the sole, leaving the heel bare.

At that moment there was no way of telling whether she had actually been on the scooter or she had been hit first and the scooter later as the driver tried to flee the scene. There was no sign of a crash helmet, but that didn’t mean anything, given the lackadaisical Thai approach to wearing one. If she had been on the scooter when it was hit, the car had been going some speed because it had been dragged around twenty meters further along the road.

I turned away, hoping the situation wasn’t as fatal as it looked, and kept walking. There wasn’t a single thing I could have done anyway.

And that’s when I saw instant karma made real.

A couple of hundred metres further up the road was a sharp right-hand bend, and as I turned it I saw the Volvo again – smashed into the side of a new, very big, white pick-up truck.

It was a curious set up and I couldn’t work out where the vehicles had been for it to happen like this. The car was smashed into rear section of the driver’s side of the pickup, over the rear wheels, turning the truck at a right-angle to the road with its front end almost in the middle. It

looked as though the pickup had been swung round, because its other rear side had smashed into the back of a small saloon car that seemed to be parked by the side of the road. The force of contact must have been considerable, especially as the front end of the Volvo was completely crushed up, and that takes some doing. I couldn’t work out why the front of the pickup was also severely bent. The driver of the Volvo, an elderly man who looked to be in his seventies, was still in his seat, eyes closed, mouth hanging open, no sign of life. With no airbag to operate, it was amazing he hadn’t gone through the screen, because I didn’t see any sign of a seat belt.

I arrived within moments of an ambulance. A female member of the two-person crew was looking at how to get the driver out of the car while the ambulance driver, with the help of a member of the public, pulled out a stretcher on wheels and an orange plastic panel with handles at either end. The driver shouted for help to lift the seemingly lifeless body out of the car. As the smash had happened in front of a row of food stalls there was no shortage of volunteers.

The female para-medic carefully fixed a support collar around the driver’s neck, and, showing the volunteers how to lift, slowly extracted him, laying him on the plastic panel. She began giving CPR while the ambulance driver fixed a plastic mask over the old man’s face and attempted to give air by means of a plastic hand pump.

I walked on.

I’m not a rubbernecker. It had been enough to see the body of a young girl – whether it was a corpse or not – lying motionless on the road, I didn’t need to witness the removal of an old man – whether corpse or no. I’ve not seen any report of the incident in any Chiang Mai press, so I don’t know the full story, but a young woman, early in her life, and an old man, late in his, are quite possibly dead. Whatever was in his head when he tried to flee didn’t last long, about thirty seconds at most.

Derek Workman is a travel writer, photographer, magazine and book designer. After living and working in Spain and Morocco for fifteen years, he moved permanently to Chiang Mai in 2015. You can find his works on his web site.