The day I almost blew up the car — and myself

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Remember the headline on my column a few weeks ago? “Accidents can happen anytime, anywhere.”

Little did I know how prophetic those words would be just a day later. I was racing against time on Nov. 19 to get to bell-choir practice in Whitefish with the Alpine Ringers (we were ramping up for our Christmas concert at the Whitefish Stroll so it behooves us ringers to be there with bells on, pardon the pun, for every practice).

It was about 5:30 p.m., the height of rush-hour traffic at the busy intersection of Whitefish Stage Road and West Reserve Drive, where one can sit through several stoplight changes before getting through the intersection. As I finally got a chance to make a left-hand turn onto West Reserve, I heard the worst scraping sound underneath my car as I turned and couldn’t for the life of me figure out what had happened.

No one had hit my newer model Toyota, and it didn’t feel like a flat tire. It felt like the engine was dragging on the asphalt. I immediately pulled over, put on my emergency flashers, carefully got out as cars whisked by me and started to walk around the car when a motorist waiting in traffic shouted at me, “Hey, you’ve got a propane tank under your car.”

“Oh, crap,” I said as I bent over to see the tank lodged under the front end of my vehicle.

The propane tank apparently had fallen out of someone’s pickup, and that intersection is so dangerously dark I didn’t see it. There’s only one traffic light at that intersection and a later inspection revealed the light doesn’t work. The only residual light at the junction that night were a couple of smaller lights in two nearby business parking lots. Suffice to say it was nearly pitch black at that junction.

I shut off the engine, stepped into the field to the north and called 911. While I was waiting for help to arrive, a good Samaritan stopped and offered to help me get the propane tank dislodged.

“I could try to back up your car,” he suggested.

There was no way to know if the tank had been punctured. It seems too risky, so I thanked him kindly and said the fire department was on the way.

Evergreen Fire Rescue showed up minutes later, followed by the Montana Highway Patrol. The first-responders quickly used some kind of air-bag device to lift the vehicle and grab the tank, which thankfully was still intact. The trooper inspected the underside of my car as much as he could and said it looked like the oil pan was only scratched. He asked me if I wanted to keep the propane tank. “Um, no thank you,” I told him. I didn’t want any reminder of this bizarre incident.

It didn’t hit me until I was finally driving home that the outcome could have been much worse. Who knows what it takes to puncture a propane tank? Would it have actually exploded? I’m thankful I didn’t have to find out. Someone told me my guardian angel was looking out for me. I couldn’t disagree.

News Editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or lhintze@dailyinterlake.com.

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