An American visitor to Cayman who was injured when his car slid out of control on a wet road surface in Bodden Town reunited last week with the dump truck driver whose quick thinking and fast reflexes prevented the accident from being far more serious.
Paul Billoni broke his wrist in the Jan 9. crash, but said he doubts he’d have survived the smash if Dwain Rivers hadn’t swerved his heavy truck off the main road to avoid a head-on collision. Instead, Mr. Billoni’s car hit the side of Mr. Rivers’s truck and then careened across the road.
The pair, with their wives, arranged to meet on Thursday at Foster’s Food Fair near the airport, where Mr. Billoni couldn’t thank Mr. Rivers enough for not only maneuvering his truck to prevent what he feels could have been a fatal accident but also for helping him out of his damaged car after the crash at the junction of Manse Road and Bodden Town Road.
Recalling the moments as his small rental car began to slide seemingly inexorably towards the oncoming truck on the slick road surface, Mr. Billoni said, “At first I thought I was dead. I thought I saw the Lord and it was all over.”
Making their way to a private room at Foster’s for a more personal chat, Mr. Billoni continued to assure Mr. Rivers he was sorry for causing the family distress. “I know what it is to run your own business and losing work, I know how hard it can be,” Mr. Billoni said.
The damage sustained to Mr. Rivers’s truck has left his vehicle temporarily out of commission. Mr. Billoni said he would try to assist in getting the truck back on the road as soon as possible.
On the morning of the crash, Mr. Billoni, who has been a regular visitor to the Cayman Islands since the 1980’s, had been making his way to East End to join an Ocean Frontiers vessel for an early morning dive excursion.
Minutes before, he had told his wife Cyndee he would meet up with her after his dive. The next time she would hear about her husband, it would be from an unknown woman, on the phone, explaining that Mr. Billoni had been in an accident.
“Leaving Seven Mile Beach, it was raining a little,” said Mr. Billoni. “As I got to Bodden Town, I never realized that the road was so slippery until I came into the turn and realized that I was hydroplaning into the turn. I realized at that point that I was out of control and tried to get the car back into control. That was when I saw a dump truck coming right at me. At the same time, I made eye contact with the driver of the truck and saw how hard he was working to go to the left to avoid the collision.
“It happened so fast. Here I am trying to work hard without going more out of control, thinking if I turned too hard I would go into a 360 spin and tried to get back into my left lane. The truck driver at the same time was trying desperately to get out of the way by turning onto another road. When I thought we had made it, ‘Boom!.’ That is when I felt the hit,” said Mr. Billoni.
“I think I lost consciousness at that point because the next thing I remember is my car sitting crossways in a drive way,” he said. “The car was steaming and I turned the engine off. I unbuckled my seat belt and that was when someone appeared at the car window. That person opened the car door just a few inches so I could squeeze out.”
Mr. Billoni said he sat down on the grass and then lay down, and then everything started to hurt. “I could see my wrist was bent at that point but I was looking for a truck. I knew I saw a truck but I did not see the truck anymore,” he said.
The truck had swung into Manse Road, outside his line of vision.
He did not realize at the time that it was the truck driver who had helped him out of the car. Only when Mr. Rivers showed up at the hospital the day after the crash to see how he was doing, did Mr. Billoni realize who has assisted him out of his badly damaged vehicle.
“I could not believe that someone could care that much. He said he could not sleep the night before for wondering how I was,” Mr. Billoni said.
Telling a female friend later about the incident, Mr. Billoni said she told him she had also done a 360 degree turn on that bend and observed the carelessness of truck drivers who hog the road. Mr. Billoni said he quickly corrected her, “Not this one. Not my truck driver.”
“A lot of the truck drivers we have here are just that – drivers,” interjected Mr. Rivers. “The owners of the trucks have their office jobs and they hire guys to drive trucks with no experience. What we have here are what you call ‘wheel turners,’ which give other truck drivers a bad name,” he said.
The day of the accident, Mr. Rivers said he saw Mr. Billoni’s car skidding towards him as he approached Guard House Hill. He swung hard to the left, into Manse Road, but felt the impact of the car at the back.
Mr. Billoni underwent surgery the morning of the accident for crushed bones in his wrist at the Cayman Islands Hospital. He had high praise for the hospital and its staff.
“Chief Medical Officer Dr. [Delroy] Jefferson, he is a wonderful man,” said Mr. Billoni. “I cannot speak highly enough about the hospital and the care I got, the professionalism, how they documented everything, which was done well. I could not have been happier with the medical care I got.”