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  • Writer's pictureBruce Campbell MD

The Repercussions of a Car Crash

Updated: Apr 19

Note: Some identifiers have been changed

Just as ripples spread out when a single pebble is dropped into water, the actions of individuals can have far-reaching effects.

-Dalai Lama

The family has always called it “The Accident.”

1963 Pontiac Catalina Wagon
1963 Pontiac Catalina Wagon
1963 Pontiac Catalina Wagon - Downloaded photo

It was a beautiful September 1963 Sunday in Rock Island, Illinois. Kathi-–my future wife who was seven years old at the time-–along with her parents, two brothers, two grandfathers, and grandmother had been to church and then out to lunch. The family was driving across town, heading back to the house in their new 1963 Pontiac Catalina Station Wagon. They were two miles from home.

Kathi’s father, Ken, was at the wheel as the Pontiac traveled east on 31st Avenue, pulling up at the stop sign at 30th Street. Ken, like his father, Gustav Knut (GK) Andeen, had pursued the ministry but had then gone on to earn a PhD in Theological Education from Columbia. He was chair of the Division of Religion and Philosophy at Augustana College. The day was a celebration of Ken's parents, GK and Grace Andeen, and their one-week visit from DeLand, Florida, about an hour from Orlando. Kathi’s other grandfather was a widower; several years before, Robert Carlson, had moved from Rockford to live with the family in Rock Island. Kathi’s brothers, Tim and Gary, were six and ten years older than she. Gary was in the back seat behind the driver. Tim was on the station wagon’s back deck with Kathi.

The Pontiac Catalina had been redesigned for 1963 with cleaner lines and vertical headlights, a forward-jutting “brow,” and a distinctive split grillwork in front of its V8 engine. 1963 was a time before seatbelts, airbags, crumple zones, padded dashboards, or serious considerations about safety; in fact, in 1963, there were 22 motor vehicle deaths per 100,000 people in the US, almost double the rate when compared to 2021. Ken had paid $3,780.41 for the car the previous April. It was the family's pride and joy.

As the Pontiac waited its turn at the stop sign, a pick-up truck driven by "Ted" (a pseudonym), was racing north on 30th Street. Ted was a maintenance worker whose boss, Mr. Smith (actually, not a pseudonym), said at the trial that Ted had never been in trouble as far as he knew and never drank on the job. Smith later indicated that he would continue to employ him. Ted had served as a corporal in the Military Police during the waning days of World War II. He had settled back in Illinois, just south of Rock Island where he was married and raising a family.

On Sunday, September 22, 1963, Ted had been drinking. He stopped to buy a six-pack of beer at a liquor store and had gone to a tavern in downtown Rock Island for a beer. Later, the police found the six-pack carton in the truck but only one bottle of beer. He told one of the police officers that he had consumed three bottles and a glass of beer during the day. His blood alcohol level was 0.18. At the time, 0.15 was considered sufficient for conviction of driving while intoxicated in Illinois. Today, the level is 0.08. The blood alcohol testing was later deemed inadmissible at his trial.

Rock Island IL
31st Av and 30th St, Rock Island IL. (Google Maps 2024)

Also at the intersection was another driver, a 32-year-old Rock Island resident and his wife. As Ted approached the intersection, the other driver was stopped, heading south on 30th Street, waiting to turn east onto 31st Avenue.

At 7:22 p.m., Kathi's dad, Ken, eased the Pontiac into the intersection, heading across 30th Street to continue east on 31st Avenue. Ted later told the police he had been distraught because his 16-year-old daughter had taken some pills and was at the hospital. This was never verified. He also told investigators that he must have “blacked out.” In any case, the Pontiac had not cleared the intersection when the pick-up truck barreled up the curb lane on 30th Street passing to the right side of three cars, accelerated into the intersection, and plowed into the Pontiac's right rear passenger door without braking. The impact sent the Pontiac bouncing into the third car waiting to turn. The occupants of the third car were shaken up but not badly hurt. Ted was admitted overnight to the hospital. Kathi and her family, however, sustained significant injuries.

The Rock Island Argus, the local newspaper, reported on the collision the next day.

Rock Island Argus
From the front page of the September 23 , 1963 edition of the Rock Island Argus

“Timothy Andeen, 13, the most seriously hurt, incurred apparent fractures of the skull and jaw, lacerations on the top of his head and on the left side of the forehead and possible internal injuries. His condition is listed as critical. He is under care at Lutheran Hospital, Moline.”

The extent of Tim's injuries was not clear until later. Tim was in a prolonged coma, and Gary remembers spending hours at a time at Tim’s bedside. Gary was scared for both Tim and Kathi. Tim could not move one side of his body when he finally woke up. During Tim's recovery, he required tutoring, physical therapy, and speech therapy.

“The Rev. Mr. Andeen, 45, and his wife, Mrs. Constance Andeen, 43, who incurred cuts on the lip and knee, were released after aid at the same hospital."

“His parents, the Rev. G. K. Andeen, 77, and Mrs. Esther Andeen, 74, of DeLand, Florida and Mrs. Andeen’s father, Robert Carlson, 78, who resides with the Rock Island Andeen family, all are listed in fair condition today in Lutheran Hospital. All suffered from shock and Carlson, from a possible heart attack, according to investigators."

Robert did, indeed, have a heart attack.

“Two other children of the Rock Island Andeen family, Gary, 17, and Kathryn, 7, also were injured. Gary was released after treatment for a laceration of the right temple and Kathryn, who incurred facial and head lacerations is listed in fairly good condition.”

The paper did not report that Kathi had also suffered a crushing pelvic injury. Ken had to carry Kathi from her bedroom to the living room for tutoring sessions during her recovery. When pregnant with her first child many years later, she worried whether the old injury would be a problem.

Ken’s father, GK, had a crushing chest injury and was a patient for several weeks in the Moline hospital. He was eventually driven by ambulance to Chicago and taken by train back to Florida where he remained bedridden, lingering for over a year. He died in May 1965.

In a front page article the next day, the Argus updated readers that Robert Carlson, Kathi’s grandfather and good buddy, had died.

Kathi remembers sitting with Robert to watch TV when her parents were at meetings or events. Robert and Kathi were close. When Robert died, Kathi’s parents did not tell her of his death, not wanting to stress her more than she was. She remembers her parents failed to visit her one day in the hospital. She learned later they had driven back and forth between Rock Island and Rockford for his funeral.

After the death of Robert Carlson, the Argus noted that “additional charges would be filed” against Ted. At his trial, he was asked whether he believed he was responsible for the collision. He responded, “Yes, to a certain extent, I’d say I was,” adding, “I’m awful sorry for what I’ve done.” He plead guilty to reckless homicide rather than be tried for involuntary manslaughter for which he might have been sentenced to ten years in prison. Kathi's father testified at the trial, telling the judge about the impact the collision had had on the family.

Ted's incarceration totaled 90 days in the county jail. He was placed on five years of probation. Circuit Court Judge George O. Hebel refused to levy the $1000 fine that was recommended by Assistant State’s Attorney Robert Ellison. There was no apology or attempt at financial restitution. Ted had no property to sell to raise funds for a settlement. He died six years later in May 1969, at age 58.

To add insult to injury, two teenagers broke into the Andeen's house and stole Tim’s coin collection the day of Robert's funeral. When caught, they admitted to having broken in at least twice before.

The final pieces of the crash fell into place years later. After the collision, the Country Mutual Insurance Company balked at several of the claims including replacing the automobile, covering the uninsured motorist portion of the policy, compensating the survivors, and paying interest for delayed payments. Although the policy listed $60,000 in coverage for claims arising from one accident, the insurance company lowballed the family with a $16,000 offer. With a one-year time limit running out on the opportunity to sue the liquor store and bar through the "dram shop" statutes (i.e., holding the seller of the alcohol responsible for the actions of the purchaser), the family sued the alcohol purveyors and Ted directly. As required in their policy, they told the insurance company of their intention to do so. The insurance company did not respond. When the Circuit Court settled in favor of the family, Kathi's dad likely expected the insurance company to pay up.

Things got weird. The insurance company filed a motion, denying its responsibility to pay because they had not signed a consent to settle as stipulated in the policy. In fact, Country Mutual had ignored every notice that had been sent to them. They claimed they did not have to pay because Ted was not drunk (which he was), that Ted had not plead guilty (which he had), that Ted's truck was insured (which it was not), that the Andeen family members had exaggerated their injuries (seriously?), and that the company wanted a jury trial. I cannot imagine the pain that the family felt reading the insurance company's claims. The Circuit Court found in the family's favor.

The insurance company then appealed to the Illinois Third District Appellate Court which agreed entirely with the Circuit Court, writing that the company could not, "take advantage of its own failure to act in order to avoid liability."

The insurance company was not done. They appealed the decision to the Illinois Supreme Court and then to the United States Supreme Court where, on January 23, 1967, SCOTUS declined to take the case. (certiorari denied). Three years and four months after the accident, it was over.

Fatal car crash settlement
Settlement announced in the Rock Island Argus January 24, 1967

At the time of the crash, Ken and Connie (who had always kept calendars and journals), stopped creating entries. There is no hint how they were affected other than to continue to go to appointments, doctor visits, and meetings when they could.

Girl with chipmunk
Kathi feeding a friend at Deer Rest a few weeks before the car crash.

As a form of healing, the family built with their own hands a summer home on a Northern Wisconsin lake on undeveloped property they had purchased in 1958. The process of building the home was therapeutic but they rarely expanded on that thought.

It is remarkable that any family could survive such a horrific event and its aftermath. Ken and Connie left Rock Island for good in 1965, looking back fondly on their years at Augustana College but rarely referring to the tragic day. They drove Tim to therapy, supported him, and prohibited him from playing contact sports. They encouraged Kathi to grow and be active. Whenever Kathi purchased a vehicle, Ken always wanted her to get a large car “that could withstand impact.” They loved Deer Rest, their summer place in Conover, WI. Throughout their lives, their homes were places of faith, hospitality, generosity, and friendship.

I entered the Andeen orbit in 1978 when I met Kathi. Over the years, as an outsider, I heard bits-and-pieces about “The Accident” and surmised it was a watershed event. Despite this, I never understood its impact on this stoic, Scandinavian family other than as something that was given to them as a challenge.

Ken died of Alzheimer's Disease in 2010. When we sorted his files, we found a folder containing clippings, hospital charges, death certificates, and correspondence about that day in September 1963. The materials were passed back-and-forth between the siblings. I ached for the family as I read the reports and listened for the departed voices.

Robert Carlson and Gustav Knut Andeen
Robert Carlson and Gustav Knut Andeen both of whom died as a result of the crash. Family photo from 1949.

What happened at the corner of 30th Street and 31st Avenue on that day was not an accident. Federal and state officials don't refer to collisions between two cars as "accidents" anymore. This was vehicular homicide. Today, Ted would likely have been charged with a Class 3 felony, fined, and served three to five years in prison.

Instead, Ted spent 90 days in the county jail, was fined $50 for running a stop sign, and spent five years on probation.

Has the world changed since 1963? As a society, do we value human life differently? Would airbags and collision alert systems have saved Robert and GK? Do we realize how blessed we are to have family, friends and community support surrounding us?

It is not difficult to spot the ripples through the years. I see how it affected the family I love and wonder if, somehow, the ripples affected other families, including Ted's. I wonder if he ever told his kids about that day. For better or worse, I hope he did.

Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it? – every, every minute?

-Thornton Wilder, Our Town

The Repercussions of a Car Crash

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2 commentaires

28 mai

Somehow I missed this but having found it, I am so glad I did. What a heart wrenching read. As much as we might need to romanticize the past , it is important to recognize that things are constantly evolving and hopefully mostly for the better. Thanks for these specifics to illuminate a universal theme of persisting despite trauma.

Bruce Campbell MD
Bruce Campbell MD
29 mai
En réponse à

Thank you, Aleta.

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