Last Saturday, I made what had become a weekly trip to Four Star Video Heaven to rent some videos. Little did I know that this particular trip would make a significant impact on me, not from the videos I had rented, but a scene that I would witness when I left the shop.

As could be expected at that time of day, traffic was heavy along Gorham St, so I waited patiently to cross. Suddenly, right across from me, a car turned in front of a bicycle and the cyclist flew off his bicycle to avoid hitting it. Needless to say, I was shocked. I knew I had to help the injured cyclist, who was groaning on the road. As I waited to cross the road, the car that had caused the accident drove off and I didn’t get the opportunity to take a good look at it.

And this is what this article is about. It’s not about the accident or the cyclist. It’s not even about the car. It’s about my lack of doing what should’ve been the right thing to do: taking note of the car’s details. Of course, helping the cyclist was the right thing to do too, after all, he was sitting on the road in the midst of heavy traffic on a major road, his clothes ripped and bleeding from open wounds on his arms and legs.

But I can’t help thinking that I failed this man in getting the justice that he deserves. I mean, how difficult is it to remember a car’s license plate? All I had to do was stare hard at the six digits, commit them to memory and then pass that information to the police officer later.

I wasn’t thinking about any of this at that time, I was more concerned about ensuring that an unsuspecting vehicle wouldn’t hit the cyclist. A few other pedestrians had arrived then and helped to move him off the road. Others called for an ambulance on their handphones. I moved his bicycle to the side, then waited.

As a witness, I knew that I had to wait for the police to arrive first, so that’s what I did. Meanwhile, I watched a fire crew then paramedics tend to the cyclist. And yes, I’m not making this up: a fire truck arrived at the scene first, though I should’ve known that the crew would be trained in basic first aid too.

Then the police arrived. As I told the officer what I saw, it suddenly dawned on me that I didn’t really have anything substantial to tell him. Sure, I witnessed the car turning in front of the cyclist, I saw him thrown forward off his bicycle, but that was all I had to say. The key evidence, the one thing that would have helped the police in this incident, was the license plate of the car and I didn’t know it. What good is a description of the car when so many other cars would have the same model and color? So I ended my statement by saying, “I wish I could tell you more, but that’s all I know.” And I walked away feeling disappointed.

Perhaps I’m beating myself too hard on this. I had done the socially responsible thing, which was to help the injured party as much as I could and wait with him until the paramedics arrived. I think a lot of people would commend me for that, but I don’t. As I returned home, I remembered something that I had read six months ago. It was an article from Badger Beat, a magazine from UW police that contains crime updates and helpful tips. This particular article was about what witnesses could do to help the police in an incident. The most important thing that they could do, and I remember this vividly, was remembering key details, like a criminal’s face or the surrounding environment.

Or a license plate number. I remember that, after reading the article, I told myself that it was useless to me because I would never be involved in any such incident. I had fallen into the “it’ll-happen-to-someone-else-but-not-me” mentality. Unfortunately, six months later, I would fail to put that good advice to use to help a man who was wrongfully injured in a senseless accident.

I could go on and on about how wrong my choices were at the accident, but I won’t. Instead, I hope that my experience serves as a lesson for whoever’s reading this. You never know when you’ll witness an accident or a crime. But it’s wise to start preparing now so that when the time comes, you’ll be able to provide the useful and accurate details that would help the victim and police.

To the cyclist, I say, “Sorry.” And to the driver, I say, “You’re a lucky devil this time round.”