LUMBERTON — Eighteen inches.
That, according to John Rancke, is how close he came to being killed on Monday by a falling tree.
Rancke was driving on Barker Ten Mile Road from the Wycliffe area towards Lowes Foods when he heard a crash.
“I thought I’d blown a tire first off, but then the car kept rolling,” Rancke said. “Then I thought someone had shot out the window because the passenger side window was broken. I was covered in glass.”
Rancke’s Honda Accord veered into the adjacent lane. Fortunately, he said, there was no oncoming traffic.
“As soon as I realized that the car was demolished but the engine was still running, I pulled off the road,” Rancke said.
That’s when he realized what had happened. A large pine tree had fallen, crushing the roof of his car, and was lying in the middle of the road.
“If it had been 18 inches to the front of the car, if I had been driving just a little less than what I was driving, maybe half a mile an hour slower … it could have killed me,” he said.
Rancke’s car can still be driven, but the back half of the roof has collapsed.
Rancke said he’s heard of incidents like this before, but said they typically during ice storms and hurricanes. He said another tree had recently fallen on Barker Street, closer to where he lives.
“Trees fall in the forest,” he said. “It’s just this forest had a road built through it and I was driving on that road … It was an old tree and it was time for it to come down.” Although the rain was slowing from its earlier downpour, winds at the time, about 4 p.m., were picking up, from 3 to 7 mph.
Police came and took a report, and Rancke cleared out his car and drove it home.
“It’s salvageable,” he said.
Rancke in part credits his safe driving habits for the fact that the accident wasn’t worse.
“I drive with two hands on the steering wheel most of the time, that probably helped. There was nothing I could have done to avoid it,” he said. “There was absolutely nothing I could have done.”