- The Washington Times - Friday, March 11, 2005

VIERA, Fla. — In that split second before his rented Chevy Monte Carlo slammed into a retaining wall along Interstate 95 on Wednesday night, Hector Carrasco had only one thought.

“I’m dying. I’m going to die,” the Washington Nationals relief pitcher recalled.

Carrasco was counting his blessings yesterday after surviving what by all accounts was a horrifying, one-car crash about 15 miles north of the Nationals’ spring training complex. Driving to his hotel room from Orlando shortly after 9 p.m., Carrasco said his brakes went out, causing his car to skid off a wet highway ramp and into a concrete barricade.

Miraculously, the 35-year-old right-hander walked away from the accident with no significant injuries. An examination by a team doctor yesterday revealed nothing more than a bruised neck and wrist, and Carrasco says he’ll be back pitching this weekend.

“I’m lucky that I’m not dead,” he said, “because the way the car is, it’s ugly. It’s pretty bad.”

According to accounts provided by both Carrasco and Florida Highway Patrol officials, the veteran reliever was driving along a ramp that connects State Highway 528 to I-95 at 9:11 p.m. Wednesday. Seeing another car in front of him, Carrasco put his foot on the brake pedal, figuring he needed to take the big right turn slowly. The road was wet after a long day of rain throughout Florida.

The car never slowed down, and Carrasco was unable to keep it from heading straight for the barrier that separates the ramp from the interstate. Though he said he was not driving fast — 25 mph, he said — he hit the wall with enough force that the entire front end was demolished.

The car’s air bag deployed, and Carrasco, who was wearing a seat belt, was thrust forward.

“When I saw the car wasn’t stopping, I knew I couldn’t do anything. … Then when I hit the wall, I said, ‘Oh, I’m alive.’ ” Carrasco said.

Still dazed from the crash, Carrasco emerged from the front seat of the car and was surprised to see a police officer already on the scene, having just dealt with an accident nearby.

“He ran right over and saw everything,” said Carrasco, who does not drink. “He kind of laughed when he saw me. … He told me, ‘Hey, are you alive?’ I said yes, and he said, ‘I can’t believe you’re alive. Because the way the car is, there’s no way someone can survive that.’ ”

The officer gave Carrasco a ride to a nearby hotel, where he gave his account of the accident and called for a taxi. Carrasco didn’t get off scot-free: He was given a ticket for driving too fast given the wet conditions, according to Florida Highway Patrol spokeswoman Kim Miller.

By the time he made it to his hotel room around 12:30 a.m., Carrasco still had jangled nerves. He said he couldn’t sleep all night, because “I kept thinking I was going to die.”

The evening’s events were so traumatic, Carrasco forgot to call his wife, Tonya Margarita, who was at the couple’s home in the Dominican Republic with their children, Gelen and Hector Jr.

“I was supposed to call yesterday, and when she didn’t hear from me, she was worried,” Carrasco said. “Then this morning when I talked to her, she kind of started to cry. She said, ‘I knew something happened when you did not call me yesterday.’ ”

Though Carrasco physically felt fine when he arrived at Space Coast Stadium yesterday morning, Nationals officials sent him to a local hospital to be examined by team doctor Bruce Thomas. He should be cleared to pitch again tomorrow against the Marlins in Jupiter, Fla.

“We think he’s going to be all right,” general manager Jim Bowden said. “He’s very fortunate. He’s lucky to be alive.”

The veteran reliever has spent time with 11 major league organizations over the last 17 years, but has pitched in the majors for just five of them since he debuted in 1994 for Cincinnati. Carrasco has a 4.22 ERA in 498 career games but is a long shot to make the Nationals’ roster out of spring training. After spending last season pitching in Japan, he signed a minor league contract with Washington and in two appearances this spring has earned a win and a save.

Baseball, though, meant little to Carrasco yesterday.

“I’m lucky,” he said. “Thank God I’m alive.”

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