On fall Saturdays, as he readies for Husker football games, the little rituals remind Bart Brinkman of a day he would rather forget.
Just like that day, tickets go in his billfold.
The car gets a fresh wash.
He grabs a ballcap for sunny games; a stocking cap for the cold.
He gets behind the wheel and points his Chevy toward Memorial Stadium.
Two years ago a terrifying car accident on that same drive almost changed everything. He still carries a scar, a bit of nerve damage and hazy memories of the event.
For a long time, reminders also came in the form of insurance documents.
It took about 18 months to sort out each detail on his insurance journey, proving that even if you have owned an independent insurance agency for 18 years, there is always something to learn.
“I was surprised how tough it was to settle and get through the whole process when I’m an insider to it,” Bart notes.” And I really push my customers now to make sure they have enough uninsured/ underinsured coverage on their auto policies. I want them to understand the difference that can mean.”
The day of the accident began innocuously. A season-ticket holder, Bart was looking forward to the game against Wyoming. His tickets were in the south end zone, halfway up. His son and daughter-in-law were meeting him there. The weather was a perfect 70 degrees with a faint fall breeze.
It was so beautiful, in fact, that Bart looked off into the sky in the moment following the crash, trying to reconcile how something so bad had happened on such a perfect day.
It was supposed to be a routine drive from his home in Shickley to York to take the Interstate east into Lincoln. He made that drive hundreds of times; at least once a week for his roles as insurance agent, real estate broker, and co-owner of Fortify Group.
One of the first things people learn about Bart is that he loves to drive. He doesn’t mind traveling to meet in person. He has no qualms about driving to Chester and western Nebraska in the same day. His odometer easily turns an average of 1,200 miles a month.
That Saturday in September of 2016 I-80 was crowded. “With the 11 a.m. game, everyone crunches in at once.”
Bart cruised in the passing lane. A few miles east of York, traffic slowed abruptly. His heart quickened as the brain sent its panicky command to stop. Bart stopped abruptly but safely.
Relief flooded him - he did not hit the vehicle in front of him, stopping his 2012 Impala just short.
He immediately looked in his rearview mirror, checking for vehicles that might be bearing down on him now. More relief. The mirror is clear.
“The next thing. BOOM. It was over.”
It’s the best descriptor he has come up with. He doesn’t remember the Buick striking him, only the mashup of a thunderous sound and tinkling glass.
The Buick likely struck him at about 60- 70 mph, authorities told him. Bart’s car struck the Suburban in front of him, sending it into the vehicle in front of the Suburban, also stopped for a separate wreck ahead.
“I can only guess that perhaps (the driver) was following something like a semi that was blocking his view of the north lane. Or perhaps he was afraid of rear-ending the vehicle ahead of him and switched to the passing lane to avoid a collision,” Bart said.
Either way, the mid-sized vehicle struck Bart’s car as it sat at a complete stop.
The airbag went off. Bart whiplashed between the initial impact, the force of the airbag and the secondary hit to the Suburban, leaving him dazed.
“I almost felt drunk as I looked around,” he recalls. “My first thought was that I was just in a heck of a wreck.”
The next minutes felt hazy and heavy. The faces of rescue personnel appeared, telling him they would get him out of the car with the Jaws of Life.
He remembers the urgency in their voices after he offered to climb out the passenger door instead. “Don’t move. Stay as you are,” they instructed him.
If Bart could have stepped outside to gauge the scene at that moment, he would have understood the alarm.
His vehicle’s front hood folded up and in as it hit the Suburban. In the back, the Buick wedged underneath his trunk, its front windshield touching Bart’s trunk lid. His rear seats were pushed up an unnatural angle. Later, as Bart looked at accident photos, he would spot the gas cap but not the gas tank.
An ambulance transported him to York General Hospital. He was released a few hours later, but wishes he would have asked to stay overnight. He didn’t realize how sore his broken ribs and core and back muscles would become, how they would make getting in and out of bed a painful, overwhelming task for many days ahead.
He couldn’t yet see the ugly bruises that would form or know that his shoulder was dislocated. After 12 stitches for a deep gash in his left arm, Bart rode back to Shickley with his wife, Mary, the game long forgotten.
Recovery had a few more bumps than expected. Nerve damage in his arm sent hot streaks of pain from elbow to wrist for a time. The shoulder that helped him swim laps a mile at a time can’t quite lift his arm out of the water as it once did. But he counts himself among the lucky ones, whose life returns to normal.
On the insurance side of his accident, the black-and-white details such as damage and towing were settled quickly. The gray areas of medical costs and pain and suffering took longer. His best advice for others is to educate themselves, document their injuries, and work with an insurance agent and a lawyer you know and trust.
He also reminds customers of the importance of the underinsured and uninsured categories on their auto policies, which help if you're in an accident with an at-fault driver who doesn't carry liability insurance or an at-fault driver whose liability limits are too low to cover damages and medical expenses.
“Just think if the person who hit me had no insurance. I would have had my ($25,000) medical on my own policy and nothing more...My medical costs were $75,000.”
In the end, insurance paid his claims, and the details were resolved.
It didn’t take long for Bart to get back on the road, literally and figuratively. He still loves to drive, now in a newer Chevy, as he is a firm believer in the model’s safety features.
He still has season football tickets and drives in the day of the game. “But I do think about it a bit more on game days. I’m not so quick to jump on the Interstate now as I was.”