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Trailer Lights Must Be Plugged In

Near tragedy due to a careless mistake.

June 10, 2020
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Accident caused by not plugging in trailer lights
An overlooked detail sours a spring day on the water. Tim Bower

The morning of the accident was bright, sunny and warm, promising one of those early-spring days that can inspire a Wisconsinite to take a sick day and head out for a little angling therapy. My good friend Chuck Larson had walleye on his mind as he dropped the trailer onto his hitch ball and motored out of his driveway with the Yar-Craft following obediently behind. First stop was Kwik Trip for some ethanol-free gas, then the coffee shop for a ham and cheese and a cup of joe.

At a red light, Chuck watched a woman in tights and sneakers navigate the crosswalk with her dog, a juvenile black Labrador retriever straining the leash and clearly enjoying the warm weather, the chirping robins, and the fresh, exciting scents of a new season. Dog and owner reached the opposite curb just as the light changed, and as his foot touched the gas, Chuck detected a streak of black in his peripheral vision and hit the brakes just as the Lab bolted across the intersection, trailing the leash and his owner giving chase.

When the coast was clear, Chuck attempted to pull away but felt his truck struggling to move, and then there were horns honking and people yelling, and then a thump, thump, thump on his rear fender. In his mirror, he could see the thumper was Jim Jacobson, owner of the car repair shop on the corner.

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An ambulance arrived on the scene before the police. Traffic backed up. A crowd gathered on the sidewalk. Abaft the Yar-Craft was a little red car, its driver still at the wheel and talking to the EMT through wrenching sobs. The hood of the car was wedged under the tilted outboard of Chuck’s boat, and the stainless-steel propeller had sliced a neat series of cuts through the Korean sheet metal. The car looked like one of those elderly manatees with prop scars on its back.

Chuck contemplated his circumstance and found himself wondering if he could use the slices in the hood to measure the pitch of the prop. Clearly, the car driver was at fault, he thought, probably looking at her phone and not paying attention when Chuck stopped suddenly for the runaway canine. The car was no match for a stainless-steel prop. Even the outboard skeg seemed intact, and Chuck thought he’d certainly be on the water soon.

Officer Stamborski approached Chuck, his leatherbound notebook and pen in hand.

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“Mr. Larson, would you please step over here? I want to show you something,” Stamborski said. Together, they walked to the rear of Chuck’s truck. “The driver says your brake lights never came on.”

Following the officer’s gaze, Chuck looked down and saw the trailer’s wire plug dangling loose.

“Sir, did you check your trailer lights before you left your house? Because it appears they are not connected to the truck, which would explain why your trailer’s brake lights did not illuminate.”

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The citation Chuck received ruined his zip-a-dee-do-dah vibe, and the call from his insurance company was unpleasant—at least the other driver was not injured. But the derision Chuck faced at the Lake View Inn was the worst consequence. How many choruses of “You Light Up My Life” would he have to endure before the joke got old? Like forgetting the drain plug, rolling away with no trailer lights is a mistake a boat owner makes only once in a lifetime. Humiliation is a great teacher.

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