Al Biscoe was on a lunchtime stroll toward the Washington Monument Sept. 27 when he waded into a sea of people waiting for the light to change at the corner of 19th and E streets NW.
He never heard the sirens. It happened too fast.
A green getaway car speeding from an Arlington bank robbery raced down E Street with police in highspeed pursuit, ran a red light, collided with another car and ricocheted into Biscoe.
The impact severed his left leg on the spot. Within four days, he lost the other. Hundreds of other pedestrians near Biscoe did not receive a scratch.
"If I had time to waste, I'd ask, 'Why me?" said Biscoe from his bed at Washington Hospital Center. "But I haven't permitted it. That's unproductive. My emotional and physical resources are scarce, and I have to allocate them where they're needed most. I've got to learn to walk again and figure out what the future holds. Getting into 'pity poor me' would be absurd."
There are other aspects to the accident, from the $10 million lawsuit his attorneys plan to file against the D.C. Arlington and U.S. Park police for their part in the high-speed chase through crowded downtown streets to the phantom pain Briscoe still feels in his missing feet.
But what has obsessed strangers at the scene, along with friends of the 47-year-old University of Tennessee financial whiz on loan to the National Science Foundation, is how swiftly things can change. And what in life matters most.
Biscoe remembers nothing about the accident. But before officers seized the three suspects in the disabled getaway car and cornered another inside the Office of Personnel Management building, nurses in the crowd had stopped Biscoe from bleeding to death on the spot, and a Park Police helicopter had plucked him from a sidewalk of broken glass and smashed fenders and delivered him to the surgeons.
For four days, as he lay on the brink of death, and even thereafter, friends and reltives have been drawn to the scene of the accident "like a magnet," said his wife Eleanor.
"They say they have had a very profound experience just standing on the corner, imagining what life would be like had it been them."
"Imagine being a healthy guy out for a walk to improve your health and suddenly you lose both legs," said Larry Eisenfeld, one of Biscoe's surgeons. "You can't say, 'Hey, it's going to be fine.' It's not.
"It's going to be a long road -- mentally, physically and psychologically."
Biscoe figures he's lucky to be alive. And when his physical therapist, Lynn Hickey, asked him yesterday if he felt upset about the accident, Biscoe said, "No, things like this happen; you just have to accept it."
As a young man fresh out of the University of Georgia, Biscoe once questioned the existence of God. He said surviving the accident -- and the "Christian outpouring" of prayers, cards and letters -- has reaffirmed his faith.
Even though Biscoe is a Methodist who attends an Episcopal church, two Catholic masses have bee offered for him, he says. A jesuit group has made him an honorary member. And cards from strangers, who write to say they've entered him in a prayer chain, keep on rolling in.
"When you put it all together, it's got to add up." he said. "The doctors can't explain how I lived. I'll never put down prayer again."
Biscoe came to Washington about a year ago to advance his career. A business consultant with a Ph D in economics, he helped pioneer Tennessee's Institute for Public Service which helps prepare elected officials for their jobs, and now serves as a $41,000-a-year vice president with the University of Tennessee. He was to be in Washington another year. w
He and his second wife lived in a two-bedroom apartment in Silver Spring with her five-year-old son Jack. Both previously divorced, they were married at Christ Church in Georgetown in January and hoped to have a child.
At the time of the accident, Eleanor Biscoe had just learned she was six weeks pregnant and tried unsuccessfully to call her husband.
Later that day, as a staff resercher at Catholic University, she was scheduled to attend a reception for the National Rehabilitation Center for the handicapped. She had to cancel. After her husband pulled through, though, representatives from the handicapped welfare group dropped by the hospital to ask if they could help.
On Thursday afternoon, she sat by his bed and held his hand, a determined woman with hazel eyes and auburn hair, leaning over now and then to wipe his forehead. Biscoe's fever had been hovering about 101 degrees. Through the morphine, though, he teased her about being his "31-year-old child bride."
"People compliment me about my attitude," he said. "But I'm alive. That improves your attitude a lot." His own prayers, and the prayers of others, have also bolstered his spirits, he said. The room is a jungle of flower pots and get-well cards with time-worn, if encouraging words.
"Some mottoes -- 'Do what it takes,' 'Take one step at a time' -- that once seemed to trite now seem so true," Eleanor Biscoe said.
Even though Biscoe will continue to draw his salvary, medical costs are expected to reach six figures, doctors said. Lawyers are also contemplating workmen's compensation claims. Biscoe said he wants to get back to work.
"I work with my mind," he said. "So I figure I'll have a job. Maybe I'll have a role to play reassuring other handicapped."
He admits to having his "down moments," and concedes that he will miss tennis, and the long walks he relied on to kick his 30-year, two-pack-a-day cigarette habit. In moments, he has given in to anger.
"But I'm going to deal with it step-by-step, one day at a time," he said, always looking for the best cards to play. Even his young stepson has adopted and upbeat attitude. The other day, said Biscoe's wife, he decided that his father's loss of two legs meant he would soon have a "bionic Dad."