The fog -- an impenetrable blanket of gray in the winter morning darkness -- wrapped its heavy mist around the stalled, disoriented driver. But piercing the young man's senses was the smell of diesel fuel, shards of broken glass and the beam of swiftly approaching headlights.
"I looked out my passenger window and all I could see were the semi's lights coming in the fog," Kaleb Whitby said as he remembered his realization of what was headed straight toward his already heavily damaged Silverado pickup. "It was a semi trying to brake an 80,000-pound vehicle going down a hill on black ice."
It had been the mid-January slippery black ice on Highway 84 just outside of Baker City, Ore., that put the Mesa, Wash., rancher into the path of the approaching semi-truck and trailer. Only moments before, Kaleb had braked and swerved toward the guardrail in an effort to miss another sliding semi-truck just ahead on the roadway.
"As soon as I saw it, I tried to steer away," Kaleb said, recalling the unnerving scene of an out of control semi-truck straight ahead. "I braced myself, said a prayer and then I hit the trailer and flipped around. My lights went off, everything went black."
Shut down in the frigid 2015 winter gloom, the front of his vehicle was slammed against the semi-truck's trailer, the pickup bed extending into the adjoining left lane. In a matter of seconds, another tractor-trailer rig coming down the hill was upon him.
"There's no time to process, remove my seatbelt or get out," said the husband and father of a young child. "I tucked my head and braced for impact thinking, 'Is this the way I'm going to leave?' "
The semi-truck and trailer, unable to stop, slid toward Kaleb's pickup. At impact the semi tore through metal, the ear-spitting sound mixed with downshifting gears.
In the darkness, hope had slipped away.
With two semi-trucks stopped and now angled closely side by side, the crushed pickup in between was barely visible. Any chance for the driver's survival had disintegrated in the final crash.
"One driver didn't even come around (to check) because he didn't want to see the mess," Kaleb said with emotion. "He figured nobody was alive."