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|Garza West mailroom clerk Gloria Camacho stands at the site where a pickup truck left the road and crashed through a row of trees and fence in Goliad County. A burning cab light led her to the scene.
Photo by David Nunnelee
It was little more than a flicker. Still, the pale point of light in the predawn darkness caught Gloria Camacho's eye as she drove to her job at the Garza West Transfer Facility outside Beeville. It was just after six in the morning on September 17, 2009 and anyone unfamiliar with the long and lonely stretch of blacktop that rises, falls and twists its way through the ranchland of Goliad County would never have noticed the ghostly glow from beyond the scrub trees and barbed wire fence bordering the road. But Camacho had been driving to work along FM 2442 long enough to know that the light near the sharp curve at the top of the hill didn't fit.
"I saw that light and I knew that something was wrong," said Camacho, who joined TDCJ in 1994 and has worked in the Garza West mailroom as a clerk the past six years. "You don't have that kind of light out there. I know where the houses are. That one light was not supposed to be there."
As Camacho slowed and stopped her car, she fought against the memory of a foggy and rainy night five years earlier when her husband lost control of his vehicle on a similar stretch of road about 10 miles from their home in Charco. He was thrown from the truck and pinned beneath it. His body was not found until the next day.
Anxious, Camacho got out of her car, but except for the faint point of light, could see little in the darkness.
"Are you friend or foe?" she suddenly heard a man call out from beyond the row of scrub trees. The voice startled her but confirmed her fear that there had been an accident. She dialed 911 on her cell phone.
"I couldn't really tell what it was until he called out," she said.
While on the phone with a 911 dispatcher, Camacho walked through a hole in the fence and saw a man dressed in shorts lying on his back atop a bed of thorn bushes. Tire tracks suggested that his pickup had swerved at the curve and crashed through the trees and fence before coming to rest in a pasture. The man had been thrown clear of the pickup which lay crumpled nearby with its cab light - Camacho's guiding light - still burning.
Camacho said the middle-aged man told her he had crashed at approximately 10 o'clock the previous evening while driving to his ranch. It was about the same time of night that her husband's fatal accident occurred. And he, too, had lost control of his vehicle at the top of a hill.
The injured man, bleeding from the nose and complaining of back pain, asked for water, but the 911 dispatcher told Camacho that he may have suffered internal injuries and shouldn't be given liquids. She assured the man that help was coming and that she would stay with him. She managed to flag down one car in the darkness, but the driver soon left the scene, leaving Camacho alone until the in-laws she had called arrived.
"I wasn't thinking about snakes and I wasn't thinking about coyotes," Camacho said about waiting in the dark for help. "I was just thinking about the man. What really got to me was that I found him alive and wished that somebody had been there for my husband when he had his accident. Knowing that my husband was alone when that happened, it still affects me."
Camacho said the man told her that he thought he might have been carrying passengers when he crashed and asked her to look around for other victims. She found none.
"I didn't want to find somebody else," she said. "I was just praying I wouldn't."
Camacho, who had called to inform her supervisor about the accident, drove the remaining 20 miles to work once the man had been taken away by ambulance. There she met with the unit chaplain and a member of the unit's crisis intervention team to talk about the accident that had rekindled painful memories of her husband's death.
"I thought I was fine, but once I was able to talk to them, I realized that it did affect me," she said about the September accident. "To relive that day (when my husband died) with them helped a lot. I hadn't talked about it in five years."
Oddly, Camacho said the cab light that had guided her to the accident victim went out shortly after the ambulance arrived. She thinks the light may have been a message from her husband, telling her to save the stranger's life and to finally come to terms with the fact that she could have done nothing to save his.
"That light was a sign for me to stop, I believe that," she said. "Maybe that was (my husband's) way of telling me that it's okay. Even though I wasn't there to save his life, I was there to save this man's life. Maybe that was his way of telling me to go on with my life. It's been five years and I haven't gone on. Now I can go on. I can go on."
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