The Sound from the Bridge: A Drunk-Driving Tragedy

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This story is based on true events. 

Fort Polk was hidden on the edge of the Piney Woods of Louisiana, halfway between Nowhere and Nothingville. The young Army soldiers stationed there had to drive a good two hours just to reach a decent-sized town like Lake Charles; miles of the route went through a dry parish. There would be no stops along the way to replenish the beer supply, so best to bring plenty along. Fresh-shaven and ready for some liberty, the new private second class barreled down the two-lane highway, anxious to find some fun beyond the six-pack he’d already consumed. 

His friend lay in the back seat, already passed out from downing too much beer, but, thought the driver, that weakling would have to clean up his own damn vomit later. The soldier tipped his head back, one hand on the wheel and a bleary eye trained on the road as he finished his bottle. Time for another. 

"The soldier tipped his head back, one hand on the wheel and a bleary eye trained on the road as he finished his bottle. Time for another."

Charley Peddy sat on his front porch enjoying a mild Louisiana evening. It was late fall, almost winter, but warm enough to sit outside and watch the evening light. His humble, high-porched farmhouse sat nestled in the trees a few miles from DeRidder. Less than a mile away, a two-lane bridge spanned a creek named Dry, but the water was running high after recent rains. 

He lifted his gaze to the heavens. Was that Russian Sputnik contraption still circling up there with that poor dog stuck in it? What a waste of a good hunting companion.

Merleen sat in her living room rocker devouring Agatha Christie’s latest mystery, a baby at her breast, a toddler at her feet. She looked at the clock. Surely she could squeeze in one more chapter before Nick arrived home. He’d be tired and wanting his supper. His work at the chemical plant wore him out even more than his time as an Air Force radioman in Japan. At least he’d missed the war. Nick might have wanted to join up like his brothers, but Merleen was secretly glad he’d been too young to fight. He walked away from two plane crashes as it was. But it wouldn’t do for the wife of the American Legion annual parade leader to admit that — that wouldn’t be patriotic.

The baby had nodded off in Merleen’s arms. She started to rise, then melted back into the cane-back rocker. Maybe Nick would stop and see his parents and she’d have a few more minutes. They lived less than a mile from the Lake Charles highway and he often detoured there to help with a few chores. Miss Marple was just about to unmask the murderer. Dinner could wait. 

Nick was ready to get home to his wife and girls after a long week. Lanky, raven-haired, charismatic, and boyishly handsome, he’d returned from his Air Force service and married a local girl. Always a Ford man, he was proud of the new Mainline he’d bought the year before and kept its chrome bumpers gleaming. His dad had never owned a new car and loved to brag to his buddies in town about his son, so successful he could buy a car off the showroom floor. 

He was anxious to see his dad’s new birddog, but decided not to stop and see his folks — Merleen and his girls were waiting. Nick cruised onto the bridge.

The soldier sped onto the bridge from the opposite direction. 

"A deafening crash of metal ramming into metal roared through the quiet evening, scattering the birds from the tops of the trees."

Merleen put the baby in the bassinet and took the toddler into the kitchen to start supper. 

A deafening crash of metal ramming into metal roared through the quiet evening, scattering the birds from the tops of the trees. A distinct sound too tinny to be thunder, it was peppered with the high-pitched ring of shattering glass.

Charley jerked his head toward the sound. Not another accident. That narrow bridge was a menace. If another car veered toward yours, there was just no place to go.

Charley called through the screen door to his wife. 

“Hey, Ma. Some poor son-of-a-bitch just got it.”

Merleen finished cooking and looked at the clock, wondering what had delayed Nick so long. The doorbell rang. A policeman stood outside. 

It was more than an hour after the crash when the police notified Charley. The sound from the bridge was a drunk driver killing his son.


Author’s Note: Nick Peddy was 29 in 1957 when he was killed in a head-on collision on a bridge near the home of his parents. The other driver, a drunk soldier from Fort Polk, was also killed, but the unconscious soldier in the back seat survived. Nick was my mother’s much-beloved older brother. Their father, my grandfather, really did hear the crash from his front porch, and he really did utter those words to my grandmother. 

This post is part of a series recognizing victims of drunk-driving deaths in conjunction with the 2020 "Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” campaign (August 19 to September 7). “One of the deadliest and most often committed — yet preventable — of crimes (impaired driving), has become a serious safety epidemic in our country.” For more information visit here. 

Tags: Death

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Written By

Becky Hepinstall Hilliker

Becky Hepinstall Hilliker is the co-author of Sisters of Shiloh (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015) and a freelance writer. See Full Bio

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