There was no time to panic, no time to cut
the wheels of his Volvo sedan in either direction. There was no time to
raise an arm or yell.
"It was a split second, I saw the lights and then, 'Bam! " Cohen said.
The force of the head-on collision Sunday night
killed the other driver, a Paterson man who was declared dead at the
scene. Police said they're investigating whether he was intoxicated, or perhaps suicidal.
But Cohen escaped the head-on collision with just a broken knee, and a new perspective on things.
"Do you know what I am? I'm the luckiest man in the
world,"said Cohen, a 29-year-old dental supply executive from
Cohen spoke from his bed Monday at St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center in Paterson, where he was recuperating.
The other motorist, 50-year-old Ruben Ramirez, was
driving a 1989 Honda, when he entered the westbound highway lanes
going the wrong way, apparently by driving up the off ramp from westbound Route 80 at Exit 52 in Fairfield, authorities said;
there is no eastbound access there.
"He only made it about a quarter of a mile before
he ran into the Volvo, "said Capt. Sal Maggio, commander of the state
police Troop B headquarters in Totowa.
Both cars were totaled, police said, but Cohen's
heavy Volvo , equipped with air bags and other state-of-the-art
safety features, afforded more protection than Ramirez's smaller Honda. Ramirez's car, Cohen said, was "about half the size it should
have been"after the crash.
Investigators said Ramirez may have been intoxicated,
and they have not ruled out suicide. They are awaiting the
results of toxicology tests from the state Medical Examiner's Office before making a final determination.
Ramirez's relatives could not be reached for comment.
Cohen credited the sturdiness of his 1998 Volvo
S70, given to him by his mother when she upgraded to the snazzier S80,
for his survival.
"Everybody makes a big deal about Volvos,
how safe they are, and they spend so much money marketing them as safe....
When the cop came into the emergency room, he told me: 'Every single person who saw the accident said they're going to buy Volvos. ..."
Cohen added:"I know I'm going to buy one to replace the totaled S70. It's unbelievable I'm still here."
Cohen said he suspects Ramirez may have been driving
on the highway without his headlights, and that he flipped them on
just before the collision.
"I just don't know where he came from, or how
he got there so suddenly, that's the crazy thing,"Cohen said."It was
almost like he just turned onto the highway in front of me or something."
Accident investigators scanned the snow-covered median
between the lanes for a few miles to the west of the accident
scene, and found no tire tracks or other evidence of where he might have made a U-turn, Maggio said.
Police also were impressed by how well Cohen's vehicle held up.
The collision was directly head-on, said state police
Sgt. Al Della Fave."It's what we call 100 percent overlap, with
the headlights matching each other,"the sergeant said."The only reason Cohen lived was because of the Volvo. "
Cohen said he was traveling from his home in New
York City to Wilkes-Barre, Pa., where he has a second home and a
"The air bags came up and my first thought was: Is
everything still intact? Are all my body parts still here? Then I
reached for the doorknob, but I couldn't find it, it wasn't where it was supposed to be.
"Someone came along and helped me with the door,
and I just walked away. I wasn't limping. I guess I had so much
Cohen recalls that a Franciscan brother was among those who stopped on the highway to try to help the crash victims.
"I wasn't hallucinating,"Cohen said."He was a monk,
he had on a brown robe and rope around his belt. I squeezed his arm
for about 15 minutes, he helped calm me down."
Another motorist, Joanne Leggio of Hackettstown,
stopped at the scene and invited Cohen to sit inside her Jeep to stay
"She was from heaven,"Cohen said."I needed to make some calls and she let me use her cellular phone."
Asked whether his brush with death might change his life, Cohen took a deep breath.
"It's just too much, too soon, to try to answer that,"he said.
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