Judge Lipke: "I never wanted to have a showdown with a semi"

Thursday, January 31, 2013
Scott Lipke

In the half-second between realization and impact, Scott Lipke's world seemed to slow Tuesday night.

Still, from where he found himself sitting -- in his Nissan Maxima, on Interstate 55, almost home -- the Cape Girardeau County judge recalled only having time for the basics: A semi, formerly plodding its narrow course northward, somehow was slithering sideways at a very sharp angle across the wet roadway.

Of the things Lipke knew in that half-second, chief among them was a collision was coming. His mid-size passenger car would try to muscle aside the roughly 20,000 pounds of steel that was the only thing standing between him and home; between him and his wife Ashley; between him and the children.

"I know everything happened in less than a second," Lipke recalled Wednesday. "But when I saw that truck in front of me, things got slow. Because I knew there was going to be an impact, it was just a surreal experience. I never wanted to have a showdown with a semi."

If that half-second looked deadly to Lipke, his previous 7,200 half-seconds must have seemed mundane. Lipke was driving home from Dexter, Mo., where he'd had a meeting. Lipke, 44, was a Missouri lawmaker before he ran for judge. Just two years after he won that election, he was among the dozen Republicans eyeing the congressional seat recently vacated by Jo Ann Emerson.

So Lipke had driven to meet with a member of the GOP group that will choose one of the 12 candidates -- and there'd be only 11 by Wednesday -- who will nab the Republican spot in a special election less than five months away.

So Lipke was left to simply cruise the 50 Southeast Missouri miles between the meeting and his Jackson home. He had called Ashley, his wife of 13 years, and said good night to their children: Parker, Layton and Kate.

The skies, dark after 9 p.m., were dry for much of the trip, he recalled. But as he drew within a mile of that semi, rain drops began to fall. By the time he passed into Cape Girardeau County, it was a downpour.

"It was just sheets of rain," Lipke said. "I was really having to focus on the road."

Lipke focused in, as he came up on mile marker 97, on a semi ahead. He saw they both were in the right-hand lane. He thought he saw that the rig seemed to be slowing. He didn't even have a half-second to wonder, when the semi began to jackknife along a stretch that soon would be lit up by the lights of firetrucks, police and an ambulance.

Traffic would shut down for hours and then open up slowly -- as slow as this next half-second would seem.

And then impact.

The world returned to regular speed, perhaps faster, as Lipke recounted the harrowing moment he realized the metal of his smaller car being gobbled up as his Nissan was forcing its way under the back of the trailer. He saw the trailer come closer and closer as it ripped its way through the metal of his car.

"At this point," Lipke said, "I'm not even sure we're still on the interstate. I just knew it looked like I was going to get wedged under the semi's trailer."

The windshield shattered, raining glass mostly onto his passenger seat, where there was a notepad tucked inside a binder. On top of that, his Bible.

As he braced again, this time for the trailer to finish off the top of his car and perhaps his flesh.

But the half-second is over, he realized, and the motion stopped. His flesh is intact. Not even a scratch, his wife would marvel later.

There's another half-second scare, when Lipke wondered if the I-55 traffic will stop in time. The moment passes when an amazed man who had been driving behind Lipke gets out of his car and asks Lipke if he is all right.

He is.

Lipke phoned Ashley, who said when she saw his name on the caller ID she knew he'd been in an accident. She ran from the house when her husband came home and hugged him in the rain. She thanked God the next day that she didn't wake up a widow.

But Lipke doesn't believe it was blind luck. The Bible in the seat was there for a reason.

"There's no doubt there was some divine intervention," Lipke said. "It could have turned out worse, but it didn't. It was totally God. Nothing short."



Pertinent address:

Interstate 55, Cape Girardeau, Mo.

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