Steve Whipple

I doubt anyone reading this needs a lesson in car-jacking safety, but I have this space to fill so I’ll share this story anyway.

Now before you’ll submit my name as a candidate for one of those “America’s Most Wanted” TV shows, when I say “car-jacking” I mean lifting a vehicle off the ground with a jack – not stealing said car from its rightful owner.

A couple weeks ago I headed into Methuen to take the cover photo for our other publication, MethuenLife. I arrived more than a half-hour early, thanks to my right foot cramping up on the Mustang’s gas pedal – something it does every time I get behind the wheel of that supercharged ‘Stang.

Anyway, to kill some time I drove around and headed over to the Village Mall on Broadway, adjacent to Texas Roadhouse. As I rolled in, I glanced to my left and spotted three young ladies standing by the rear of a silver Subaru Legacy. The car’s factory jack was positioned a few inches from the right-rear tire.

It appeared from my stuck-throttle pass that the ladies were attempting to change the tire, but were unsure how to proceed. Because I had some time to spare, I figured I’d park and give them a hand.

As I was pulling into a parking space facing the Subaru, I saw one of the young ladies crawling under the car with only her feet sticking out.

No! The last thing I hoped to see was someone under a car supported only by the notoriously unstable stock tire jack. My dad instilled in my brother and I a key commandment: Always support a raised vehicle with jack stands, blocks of wood, a cinder block or the wheel, even if using a 2-ton hydraulic floor jack.
I had to warn these young ladies and fast. I quickly shut off my engine and reached for the door handle – just as the Legacy slipped off the jack.

The two young ladies by the car began screaming for help. I was torn between sprinting over or calling 911 to get the Methuen Fire Department and its hydraulic tools on the scene of what appeared to be a lifeless body under the car.

Getting her out from under the car would only be the first step. If she were seriously hurt, she’d need EMTs or paramedics. So I called 911 and stammered through an explanation with the dispatcher who didn’t know where the Village Mall was although it was just .8 miles and 2 minutes away from the MFD. Eventually the out-of-town dispatcher figured out where the mishap was happening.

I stayed on the line and ran toward the car where a bystander was trying to lift the car up from the bottom of the rear quarter. That’s not going to work.

It was about this time I noticed that the right-rear tire was on the car. I had been so focused on the pinned woman that I didn’t notice that the car was sitting on all four tires. Then the man who had been trying to hoist the car like Superman righted the jack and began cranking.

Suddenly a Methuen cruiser appeared, siren and blues working overtime. I waved for the cop to come on over and he did. Very quickly.

Then the Methuen Fire Department’s ambulance and pumper appeared, sirens wailing. During all the excitement, I had forgotten that the dispatched remained on my phone which I stuffed into my back pocket.

“Sir, I can hear sirens. Are the police and fire on the scene?” asked the dispatcher.

“Yeah, they’re just about here. Man, I really hope this girl is alive. She hasn’t moved for…”

In all the commotion, I hadn’t noticed that the “victim” was no longer under the car. With the car jacked up a few inches, she had wriggled out and was standing with her friends brushing off her dress.

I was staring in disbelief at either her ghost or the luckiest young lady on the planet.

“There’s your victim!” I announced to the confused firefighters and cop searching under the Subaru. “She’s the one smiling and acting like this happens a couple times a day.”

I stepped up to her.

“Are you alright?!”

“Yes, why?” she replied casually.

“Why? Because a car just fell on you.”
I’ve spent as much time under vehicles as I have topside. As you know, there are mufflers, catalytic converters, frame rails, exhaust pipes, suspension parts and other stuff quite capable of burning or injuring a person lying under the car.

But she was fine, except for whatever was pressing against her that prevented her from withdrawing or even moving.

In fact, we can delete exhaust from that list since a dropped pipe was exactly what brought her to investigate in the first place. Evidently, the young lady wasn’t sure what was dragging and chose to jack up and scoot under the car to see if it would be safe to drive home.

I approached the unflappable woman once more.

“OK, you don’t know me and I don’t know you. But don’t ever, ever climb under a car that’s up on a jack. You’re really lucky to be alive,” I scolded. She nodded in agreement.

I was pondering whether I was behind the biggest false alarm in recent history. Then the MFD lieutenant took me aside, opened a compartment and pointed to the Jaws of Life they had planned to use if they needed to lift the car in a hurry.

Turns out, they responded to a similar call – more than one, actually – that didn’t have a happy ending. He thanked me for the 911 call. Seems like every few months I hear of someone who was crushed when his vehicle fell off a wobbly jack.

Sermon delivered. Space filled. Carry on.