Yes Readers, there was a time- when I thought that I was invincible. It was called “My 20’s”. I partied, drank, thought I was a rockstar- and I enjoyed EVERY moment and hangover associated with it. I could even say, they were the best times of my life. That was, until Oct 2007- when I got a DUI. Yes- my perfect partying lifestyle came SCREECHING to a halt. My punishment? A night in jail, thousands of dollars in fines, 6 months of DUI class (3 hours long) once a week; 4 hours at the hospital looking at slides and hearing horrible stories about drunk driving accidents, and then finally- spending 4 hours at the L.A. Coroner’s- which changed my life. (I only recently went), and as of yesterday- I am finished!!!!!!! Of course, I am still on probation till March 2013- But that time in my life is over.
I wanted to share with all of you my experience at the Coroner’s- because I hope NONE of you will ever have to go through what I did. The following is an essay I was required to turn into the court about my experience. I hope it changes the way you think, and makes the responsible part of you always come out on top.
“It has been 4 days since I have been to the LA Coroner’s office as part of my HAM program, and I am required to write about my experience. As for the stalling of writing this essay- it has its reasons. I planned on going home, and writing about it immediately, so it was fresh in my mind and I could get it over with. When I left the Coroner’s, I was starving- I hadn’t eaten anything, as I had been there for 4 hours. I went to meet my husband for lunch, and unfortunately, ended up going to a deli. I didn’t want to talk about what I saw, because it was inappropriate while eating, but every bite I took of sliced meat made me recall the images of the countless bodies and open cadavers. My stomach was rolling, my throat was closing up… even the mayo oozing out of the bread conjured images of the liquid “jelly-like” substance I saw pooling up on the steel cold metal gurneys that brushed by me as I stood in the “freezer”. After lunch, I went home, and called my father, told him what I had just endured. Then I called my mother, and told her the same. Then my sister…. It was like a trickle effect, as I started calling my family and close friends- I didn’t want to believe I was the only person who had just witnessed what I had seen. I realized that I needed the comfort of someone close to help ease the shock. For the rest of the day, all I could think of were the bodies. That night, I went to the movies with a friend, trying to get my mind off “this day”. While describing it, my friend was in awe, and sympathetic. Driving home from the movies, I saw 3 different police cars, all with lights on. It made me think of car crashes, and death. I went to bed that night, still thinking of bodies.
When I went to work the next day, I told my coworkers about the experience. They all had a mixture of morbid curiosity, disgust, and sympathy. They all had questions, like “what did you see?”, and “how many were there?” and “how did you do it?”.
What did I see? Something indescribable. But I will do my best. The thing is, you can read what I describe, but you cannot feel it, smell it or sense it, or experience it.
We started by watching an hours worth of slideshows depicting horrific death scenes, like cars wrapped around trees with its drivers dismembered, or a car burnt by fire with it’s victims body skinless and charred. There was even a photo of a pregnant woman, missing a leg, half her face gone, body bloodied, who apparently thought it was fun to race her 2 seater convertible corvette with 3 other people in it- her 2 other children and boyfriend in the car. Only the boyfriend survived, as there was no photo of him- just photos of the 2 teenage children who whose bodies were only partially intact. Imagine explaining that situation to the rest of the family.
The next part of our “tour” was down to the receiving area, where the bodies come in. We were all given masks to wear, as well as gloves and booties. Clearly, we were going to a very unsafe, untouchable, and forbidden place. All 18 of us huddled together in the tight quarters, and there in the room was our first body. It was “fresh”, coming in from a crime scene or accident, with a sheet barely covering. The feet flopped as the gurney bumped. The head of hair was curly, and the face- a real dead face. Eyes were closed, but for the first time- death. I could feel this lack of… something. The room was cold, and not just because of the temperature, but because there was a feeling of a “lack of life”. As our guide had another staff member talk about his daily routine, I started to not hear any words. It was as if I was deaf. I heard him speaking, but I wasn’t listening. Because I moved to the left, and felt something touch my back. It was another body on a gurney. And then another one came through the door. All of a sudden, 3 lifeless, bloody bodies are surrounding us, and the tension in the room amongst us- you could cut it with a knife. One girl clutched to me as I whispered, “don’t look.” Another girl was closing her eyes, breathing heavily, and looking at the floor, as the staff were making jokes- seeing as they see this everyday. For the average human, death is not something you prepare yourself for. Especially not like this.
Then the worst part of the tour happened. We were shown into “The Freezer”. They prepped us by saying, “stay close together, there are a lot of bodies. We don’t want you to touch them, so huddle”. The doors opened, and it was as if I were transported into a movie studio’s horror department. I still see this image very clearly, and I don’t think I will ever be able to erase it from my mind. The room was the size of a grocery store. I took a breath, and I smelled the most horrible stench. It was a mixture of chemicals and frigid air, stale meat and metal, and something else- I wouldn’t have known how to describe it , but now I can say I know what death smells like. The bodies, not rows of gurneys as I thought, were stacked- up to 6 bodies high, on metal shelving units. There were rows. And rows. I felt the insane feeling of wonderment, only it was in an unbelievable, and unrealistic feeling. I thought, “this can’t be real”. Over and over in my head, I kept telling myself, “how can this be? This looks like props in movies, are these really real dead bodies?” My questions would soon answered, as I looked closer. There was a body in a plastic bag, bloated with air, and dark green. The instructor told us that was a decomposing body they found. Then she pulled back a sheet to expose another body, bloated and overweight, dirty and disheveled. She said it was a homeless person, and at this time of year- they get a lot. And another body, also half covered in a plastic sheet, only this one was covered in blood, the arms, legs, face- all dark crimson red. It felt as if we were in a Costco meat department, behind the butchers glass, that you see as a customer. Only this wasn’t meat- this was flesh. Cold flesh. Some in tact, others missing limbs. But the toes… the rows and rows of toes…you could see their toe nails, some of the feet were yellow, others pasty white. It seemed never-ending. It was like a bad dream, and then it hit me like a wall. We were not in a horror movie’s prop shop- these bodies were real, and their owners lives are now gone. Where are their families? Who is now left without a father, a son? Or a mother, or daughter? All of what was in front of me once had life, was talking, eating, walking…. now gone. In an instant. No pretend, no second chances. DEATH. These people were dead.
As we walked out of the “freezer”, we passed by an are containing small shelving, almost resembling bins. In them, were scattered bags, some larger than others, but mostly smaller. We were asked what we thought these were for, and the majority of us mumbled, “body parts?”. Someone even suggested “animals?”. No, she replied, this is were they keep the babies. I think everyone bowed their heads at the same time. Either that, or closed their eyes. I couldn’t believe we were seeing this. It had just gone too far to handle. And then our guide pulled out a red bag, and just peeking out, was a tiny foot, no bigger than 4 inches. I couldn’t take it anymore. No one should be subjected to seeing a dead baby. I closed my eyes, and as I did, a tear went down the side of my face. I didn’t want to hear her explain how the baby died, or how they found it. I didn’t want to do this anymore. My breath was short, and my emotions were taught. I am not trained to be around this, and it was heart wrenching.
We finally left that room, promised to go back up to get our certificates. I couldn’t wait, I didn’t want to see anything more. We were led down a hallway, only it didn’t go straight to our orientation room. We had to pass several rooms to get there, and with every room, was a stop with commentary. There was an evidence room, where they collect DNA samples, only this wasn’t like a CSI episode, with nice clean walls, glass, and computers. There was blood, there was cold concrete. It was like a sick maze that you were forced to see, as if we were held captive by a villain, and led through torture chambers. I couldn’t look- the explanation of what was going on inside these rooms- the autopsies- were grotesque in description, that a visual to go with it would be unbearable. I kept my head down through this maze of hallway and horror shops, occasionally getting a side glimpse of a bloodied and dismembered body only inches from me, just waiting on a gurney, to be next on the tables. And then there was one moment, where I happened to lift my head and look. Maybe it was out of curiosity, maybe it was only to see where the end of this death trail was going. But I happened to look up at the exact moment of passing an autopsy room, and the sight I saw- I can never erase. A human torso, very large, probably that of a man, was propped upright, and was headless. There was nothing beneath the belly, no legs. The skin had been cut down the center, and peeled back, and pinned, exposing the entire ribcage and organs. It was like a slab of meat, pink and red, liver, and intestine. Displayed as if it were a madman’s slayed victim. It is an image that will haunt me for the rest of my life.
From that point on, I didn’t look up again. We were only in that hallway for a couple more minutes, until reaching the stairwell, and brought up to the daylight. We received our completion papers, and as I left, my mouth blurted out questions my mind must have wanted to know. I asked, “how many bodies are in there, how many come in a day?”. I don’t know why I wanted to know, I think it was my subconscious wondering how people could be around this all day, everyday. That this was their job, their life, their daily routine- seeing this EVERY day. The answer I received was, “We have about 250 bodies now, probably averaging about 15 a day. L.A. has the highest in the nation, that yearly- the body count is around 10,000”. Of course, this is not all from drunk driving, but it makes you think- how could we make that number smaller, just by having people not drink and drive? What if LA got responsible, and was able to cut it in half, so that the only bodies in there were from old age, or really tragic accidents. The murders, the suicides,…all that may be out of our hands in some ways, but getting behind the wheel, and killing someone or even yourself, to see those bodies, one after anther, every day- there is no reason. If everyone had to see what I saw- I believe people would be so afflicted, that they would not get behind the wheel of a car not sober.
Since my arrest in Oct 2007, I have not once, been behind the wheel intoxicated in any way. And as for the future, there will not be a chance in hell that I ever will. I will not be responsible for taking anyone’s life.
I wish everyone a SAFE and HAPPY HOLIDAY.