Claim: The morning after an all-night drinking binge, a man discovers the body of a little girl embedded in his car’s grille.
Example: [Ann Landers, 1986]
[A man] didn’t come home after work until 2 a.m. When he got upstairs to their bedroom, [his wife] could see he was cockeyed drunk.
The next morning he was pulling out of the garage onto the driveway to go to work. His wife ran to the door to give him his lunch, which he had forgotten. She went as far as the porch and fainted. Her husband got out of the car to see what was the matter. He saw an eight-year-old girl imbedded in the grille of his car.
He reported himself to the police — said he had a complete blackout, didn’t remember anything. He was charged with DWI and a few other things that will keep him in prison for quite some time.
Maybe others who drink and drive may decide it’s not worth the risk after reading this letter.
Variations: A less sinister version of this legend involves a (non-drunk) motorist who accidentally hits a cat:
A man driving home from work hits a cat crossing the road. Concerned, he pulls up and finds a cat lying in the gutter apparently unconscious. He kills it quickly so it won’t suffer and then drives home. When he gets there his wife points out that there is a dead cat wedged behind the front bumper, and at that moment the police arrived to arrest him for killing a cat that has been harmlessly sleeping in the gutter. The horrified owner had watched and taken down his registration number.
Origins: The motif of the careless driver who runs into things (including people) without realizing it until someone else points out objects or bodies stuck to his car has generic antecedents in sea tales about equally careless captains whose ships are found to have items such as bodies, wreckage, and parts of other ships entwined in their anchors and rigging. One such version was reported by writer John McPhee as an “asmut” (apocryphal story much told) well known among the merchant marines:
“No.” “Well, you should have. There’s a mast and rigging hanging from your anchor.”
One such yarn led up to a question that was supposedly put to a merchant skipper when he arrived in port: “Captain, have you seen any sailboats recently?”
“Well, you should have. There’s a mast and rigging hanging from your anchor.”
Automobile versions (featuring non-drunk drivers who hit pedestrians or cats) were probably circulating decades before the current form of the drunk driver unaware that he has run over a child. This version of the legend, a cautionary tale about the perils of drinking and driving, took off in 1986, especially after it was given nationwide prominence in Ann Landers’ 24 September column that
With the increased attention brought to bear on the problem of drunk driving in the 1970s and 1980s by organizations such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), the adaptation of a bit of urban folklore into a useful piece of “scarelore” is not surprising. Many apocryphal drug horror tales have long served a similar purpose in the campaign against drug abuse. As we often find in tales intended to focus our attention on one of society’s lurking dangers, the innocent victim is one chosen to provoke maximum moral outrage: in this case, an eight-year-old girl.
Although none of them matches the details of the “little girl killed by drunk driver” version of this legend, a number of real-life tragedies have involved motorists who struck and killed people on roadways and (knowingly) continued driving while their cars carried their victims’ bodies:
- In Victoria, British Columbia, on 15 December 1998, a cyclist struck by a pickup was vaulted into its bed, where he subsequently died of his injuries. Although the vehicle’s driver and passenger were obviously aware they’d hit someone (the victim smashed into the windshield and rolled over the cab before landing in the truck’s bed), they were apparently unaware the victim had landed in their truck as they sped away from the scene of the accident. Police quickly located the hit-and-run vehicle: its license plate had come off at the scene of impact.
- In March 2002 the Fort Worth Star-Telegram carried a bizarre story about an October 2001 accident in which a 25-year-old woman named Chante Mallard, who had been drinking and using the drug Ecstasy, struck 37-year-old Gregory Glenn Biggs as she was driving home. The impact shot Biggs over the automobile’s hood headfirst and sent him crashing through the windshield. Mallard continued home, parked the car in her garage, and lowered the garage door, leaving the still-alive Biggs trapped and bleeding on her car hood. She ignored his cries for help until he finally died about two hours later (not days later, as police initially maintained), then enlisted the help of several acquaintances to load his body into the car’s trunk and dump it in a nearby park. In June 2003 Mallard was convicted of murder and sentenced to 50 years in prison.
- In 2004, a Virginia man named Josuel Galdino was charged with manslaughter, driving while intoxicated, and felony hit-and-run after calling police from his home to report a man’s body caught in the front-end suspension of his SUV. Galdino struck Fitsum Gebreegziabher, who had gotten out of his car after getting a flat tire, and dragged him 8-1/2 miles from the site of the accident to Galdino’s home. At trial, testimony given by Eric Rios, a passenger in Galdino’s car at the time of the accident, demonstrated that Galdino suspected at the time that he had hit someone, but he ignored Rios’ suggestion to stop and continued driving home with Gebreegziabher’s body pinned beneath the vehicle.
- In June 2006, a 17-year-old woman driving in Detroit was having trouble steering her car and thought she had a flat tire; she pulled into a gas station, where she discovered a man’s dead body wedged under her vehicle. The teenager screamed and ran away, then returned and summoned the police. Investigators believed the man had been the victim of an earlier hit-and-run accident, but they were unable to determine whether he was still alive at the time he was struck by the teenager’s car.
Note that none of the five cases cited above is an example of ostension (the real-life occurrence of events described by a legend), because none involved a driver who struck a live person and then drove off with the body stuck to his car, completely unaware of his having been involved in an accident.
One known case apparently involved a completely unaware motorist, although the driver’s failure to comprehend he had killed a pedestrian was due to dementia, not excessive drinking. In October 2005, news accounts reported that 93-year-old Ralph Parker was stopped after driving through a toll booth on Florida’s Sunshine Skyway when a toll taker noticed a body on the front of his car and alerted police. Parker had struck a 52-year-old pedestrian, severing his leg and killing him, then driven for three miles with the victim’s body protruding through his windshield. An official with the state attorney’s office said it was unlikely Parker would be prosecuted since he did not appear to know where he was or what had transpired.
One case that may have involved a drunk, completely unaware motorist occurred in August 2007 when Tony Martinez, a 54-year-old California motorist, pulled out of a parking lot and cut off motorcyclist Nicholas Justin Campbell. Campbell crashed into Martinez’s car, with the force of the crash throwing his head and torso broke through the automobile’s rear window; Martinez drove away from the scene and did not realize until he arrived home that Campbell’s body was hanging out of the back of his car.
Martinez then drove to a nearby fire station, where Campbell was pronounced dead. Police arrested Martinez and booked him for gross vehicular manslaughter, hit-and-run, and driving under the influence.
Sightings: A fictionalized version of the Chante Mallard news story referenced above was presented in an episode of TV’s Law & Order (“Darwinian,” original air date 7 January 2004).
Last updated: 13 April 2011
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