Driver recalls ‘sheer terror’ of hanging off 9-story Austin garage



Highlights

“You know that you’re about to die,” driver William O’Connor says.

“I feel like whenever I describe it, the words I’m using are inadequate to describe just the sheer terror.”

What caused the accident might never be known; O’Connor says he has no recollection of what went wrong.

At the end of what had been a routine week at the office, 23-year-old William O’Connor was heading to the downtown Gold’s Gym for a workout, twisting his way to the highest level of a parking garage next door.

He saw a vacant spot and began easing his Toyota 4Runner SUV toward it.

The next thing he remembers is his car jumping violently over a concrete parking barrier, ripping through steel cables designed to block cars from falling, and the sound of twisting metal. What caused the accident might never be known, but O’Connor says he wasn’t impaired and wasn’t texting or talking on the phone.

He recalls screaming for his life — “it was like a pure animalistic response to terror,” he said — as he realized he was dangling nine stories from the Littlefield Parking Garage, still strapped in the driver’s seat as a crowd of onlookers began recording what would become video beamed around the world.

INTERACTIVE: Bystander captures 360-degree view of dangling car

“You know that you’re about to die,” O’Connor said. “I feel like whenever I describe it, the words I’m using are inadequate to describe just the sheer terror.

“As I was falling, there were thoughts going through my head, like, ‘I can’t believe this is how I’m dying,’” he told the American-Statesman and KVUE-TV.

In his first interview in the two weeks since the scene caught the attention of Austin and much of the nation — network TV newscasts also broadcast the video — O’Connor recounted the crash that remains under investigation by Austin police. Last week, the Statesman reported that the steel cables that held the car likely had been in place 35 years.

O’Connor said that, after his car plowed through the barriers and came to rest, he realized a piece of wreckage might have hooked his SUV onto the garage. He said he knew he had to get out — fast.

“Once I stopped moving and there became a chance that I wasn’t going to die, that thought didn’t cross my mind. I was never like, ‘Oh my God, I’m actually not going to die.’ It was like my brain had already just quit and it was just pure instinct, and I started yelling out, ‘Help!’”

O’Connor, a mobile application developer and recent Southern Methodist University graduate, said he was only hanging there for a few minutes when he saw a man coming to his rescue. He later learned the man was visiting from Alabama, had just arrived in Austin and was staying at a nearby youth hostel.

“He grabs one of my hands, and tells me to swing both of my feet up at the same time, so I curved both of my feet up, and swung them out, and he pulled me up, like you’re helping somebody off the ground,” he said. “And that was that.”

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After being saved, O’Connor said he stood in the garage several minutes trying to grasp what had happened. He has no recollection or understanding of what went wrong when he tried to park.

Still wobbly, he said he shuffled down the garage’s stairs, only to see the spectacle on the street.

“I couldn’t believe it when I saw the hundreds of people that had gathered around in like the two minutes or whatever it had been. So many people and cameras,” he said.

For days, O’Connor didn’t want anyone to know he was the SUV’s driver. He didn’t tell even his closest friends. But this week, he posted a message on Facebook describing his experience.

He also went back to the garage for the first time.

“Oh my God, I can’t believe it,” he said, looking up at yellow police tape surrounding the spot where his car had been. “That is …Wow.”

O’Connor said he is already aware of how the accident is changing his life.

“The biggest difference between then and now is the type of things that register as important or stressful,” he said. “Whether it is more accurate or less, I think it has recalibrated my perception.”

That Friday, several hours after his ordeal began, after he had met with police and the crowd dispersed, O’Connor said he got a lift home from a ride-hailing service.

He said his driver asked if he had seen the car that had gone over the garage. She wondered if anyone was hurt.

“People are crazy,” O’Connor remembers her saying.

“‘Yep, life is crazy,’” he says he replied.


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