We are Walt Disney World regulars. Regular, as in, on average we take a trip to Walt Disney World every 2 years. I have made the drive from Ohio to Orlando well over 10 times. Not only for Disney World, but also for 3 different work trips.
This year was different. On our way through Atlanta’s interstate speedway, someone decided to change lanes and occupy the same space as our van.
I can’t tell you quite where we were. I struggled to tell the 911 operator where we were. I was either on I-75, or I-80, or both. We were traveling at the usual Atlanta interstate speeds in our Toyota Sienna with 3 adults, 4 kids, 1 car topper, and not much wiggle room. After a few miles, I decided to get into the HOV lane.
I saw the car coming at us from the right a split second before impact. Our van was immediately slammed into the concrete barrier separating northbound from southbound with a loud noise and we scrapped along a few seconds before coming to a stop. Air bags had deployed along the right side of the van and right away, we took inventory of injuries. Everyone was alert, no blood, and we were all quite stunned. Out the passenger side, we could see a black sedan oriented sideways in the middle of the highway. Out the driver side, we were pinned in by the concrete wall.
I immediately called 911 to report the accident and they told me it has been reported and help was on the way. We sat tight inches off the left side of the highway as cars continued to zoom past us. A few emergency vehicles flew by on their way to another call. Eventually, someone we saw lights come up behind us and a police officer knocked on our door. We all climbed out the right side sliding door because the passenger door was too bent up to open.
We didn’t know what to do and followed the officers’ instructions step by step. The highway was blocked from edge to edge by 2 large fire engines giving us safe passage to the right side of the highway. We gave our reports. We watched our van get dragged across the many lanes to the shoulder because the front wheels were broken.
We called our insurance company but struggled to hear them on the loud highway. We got details and instructions from the tow truck operator as to what to do next and where they were taking our car. The officers instructed us to grab any valuables or items we want to have with us before they take the car. Our insurance company gave us a basic overview of what would happen next.
The police got clearance from a supervisor and loaded the 7 of us into 2 police cars and drove us to the nearest exit, then dropped us off at an upscale, outdoor shopping mall. With as much sympathy as they could spare, they wished us luck with everything. We quickly found a place to sit and bathrooms for the kids.
Nicole talked more with the insurance company while I located a hotel within walking distance. After a few more phone calls and some discussion, we walked 15 minutes to the hotel and checked in. We at least had a place to stay for the night.
Nicole, Emma and I took an Lyft to the salvage yard where the car had been towed and ventured in with a provided utility cart to grab a few more items out of the van (in the dark). We talked to the clerk about releasing the car to our insurance agency and realized we only had 1 of the 2 needed documents. We filled out the form which they kept until we could email them proof of ownership (which we were able to do the next day after we gathered our wits to find it.)
We then took an Uber back to the hotel to see what to do next. Our insurance company did find us a car rental. But it was Saturday and the rental was on Monday morning – the same day we had tickets and park reservations for Magic Kingdom. We talked with the hotel worker who looked and found us a 15 passenger van we could rent from the airport the next morning so we decided to go with it. We made our plans for the morning, ate some pizza Grandma ordered while we were visiting the van, then slept in our clothes.
The next morning, Nicole, the 2 youngest, and myself walked 10 minutes to the Metra station and took a 30 minute ride to the airport where we picked up our 15 passenger van. We then drove it back to the hotel, picked up the rest of the crew, and headed back to the tow yard. We all worked together, with the help of a utility cart, to transport all our belongings from the van to the rental van.
Seeing the van was sobering. We did a few passes to make sure we had everything we needed and said our final goodbyes to our family van and hand-me-down car topper. We got ourselves situated and hit the road, pulling into our resort only a few hours behind schedule.
It is difficult to not have a good time at Disney World (at least, that is our experience). This trip was a bit different. Thankfully, the kids seemed to be able to move on and enjoy the excitement of the 4 WDW parks. The adults, however, continued with phone calls with our insurance company and the looming question of how we were going to get home from Atlanta once we returned our van rental.
(Spoiler alert: we ended up renting 2 cars to get all our people and luggage from Atlanta back to Ohio. It was another logistical puzzle to solve, but we worked it out.)
I have reviewed the accident in my mind dozens of times. Up until we read the police report, my theory was that the driver decided to change lanes while we were in their blind spot. The driver reported that they were swerving to avoid hitting the car in front of them. Might be possible. We’ll never know for sure. All I know is for a smaller sedan to slam our fully loaded minivan into the wall, it had to be quite the accelerated lane change.
In the end, we did end up spending over $1,000 out of pocket, which, in a way, was absorbed by the insurance payout for the van. Not the outcome we hoped for, but we are calling it water under the bridge at this point so we can move on and enjoy our summer (and our new-to-us 2018 Chrysler Pacifica!)
We all realize how much worse this could have been and are very thankful for walking away from it with minor injuries.
And we are already discussing a do-over trip to Disney World!