The yellow Chevy Impala SS396 raced through the night. It was an unusually dark night on a section of old U. S. Route 66 stretching between El Reno and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. It was the early morning hours of May 4, 1968 and the two young men inside the car had left a party in Oklahoma City to go jackrabbit hunting at Fort Reno, just outside El Reno. The two young men were friends who worked together at a T. G. & Y. Variety store in Oklahoma City. Little did the two young men know what this dark night held in store for them. Little did they know that the SS396 Chevy would soon be a crumpled wreck and both young men would be in a hospital fighting for their lives.
The party had been at Bob's apartment and as the party broke up, Bob and Danny decided to go to El Reno to hunt jackrabbits. Bob was a handsome, cool-as-a-cucumber 22 year old with a hot car. He loved to drive it as fast as it would go, which was somewhere around 140 miles per hour, even though the speedometer only went to 120 mph. Danny was a 19 year old college freshman, quite shy and reserved. Danny considered Bob a very good friend, actually, more than just a friend. Danny admired Bob and wished he had what Bob had: a fast new car, a suave, debonaire attitude, and a very beautiful girlfriend. Danny looked up to Bob and admired him for what he had and for his cool attitude about life.
Yes, Bob and Danny had been drinking at the party, and stopped to buy more beer before heading for El Reno 20 miles away. The trip to El Reno was uneventful. Bob and Danny soon found out that there were no jackrabbits out that night and decided to head back to Oklahoma City. As they left El Reno in the Chevy SS396, Bob spun a doughnut and commented to Danny "Lets see how quick we can make it back to The City." Less than 10 minutes later, after scraping the side of a semi-truck cab while trying to pass it, the SS396 careened out of control into the center median of the four-lane divided highway. Bob fought to keep the car under control. Bob had the car going straight down the center median, but Shell Creek, about two miles west of Yukon, became the next obstacle. The car had barely slowed at all, then went flying into the air, across Shell Creek and nosedived to a crashing halt some 296 feet later.
Only by the Grace of God did these two young men live through the terrible crash. Bob, who was driving, hit his head on the steering column and received serious head injuries that would trouble him the rest of his life. Danny had numerous broken bones, including both legs, left arm and shoulder, and a few ribs. But for a passing motorist, Bob and Danny would have died at the scene, the dark night would have stolen both their lives. They were rushed to Baptist Medical Center in Oklahoma City, both young men barely clinging to life. Bob remained in a coma for two months and finally left the hospital after about three months. Bob had to relearn how to talk, how to walk, and just about everything else he took for granted before the accident. He had short term memory problems which plagued him all the rest of his life. Danny had severe injuries also. He nearly lost his right leg, it remained attached by a mere fragment of skin and muscle. The doctors decided not to amputate and the leg was saved. Danny spent four and one half months in the hospital in traction and then another two months at home in a full body hip spica cast, from armpits to toes. Two more operations to stop an infection in the badly injured right leg ensued. Danny's mangled left arm remained in a cast for eight months. Danny also had to learn to walk again and many months of painful rehabilition followed discharge from the hospital.
It's so very sad that after this terrible accident, Bob and Danny were never to be friends again. After the accident, both young men had their own pain and suffering to bear, and going their own separate ways was probably best for both of them. Bob and Danny were never to meet again.
After the accident and recovery, Bob led a pretty rough life. He never married and and rambled around the country, sometimes disappearing for months at a time. With the short term memory loss, he had trouble keeping a job. Finally in 1993, his body just gave out and he succomed to a heart attack on March 13, 1993.
Danny married Betty in 1978 and they now live in Bismarck, North Dakota. Danny and Betty have three wonderful children, and Danny is thankful every day that God was with them that day in 1968, when the lives of these two young men were changed forever.
On March 13, 1997, Danny's mother called him from Oklahoma City just to chat. She asked Danny if he gets the Parade Magazine in his Sunday newspaper in Bismarck. On finding that he does, she told him to find the edition from the March 9, 1997, open it to page 2 and read the question and answer about Vince Gill. The question asked about the real story behind Vince Gill writing his song "Go Rest High On That Mountain." The answer, in part, stated that Vince had completed the song after the death of his half-brother Bob Coen in 1993. Danny's mother stated, "That's the same Bob Coen you were in your accident with." Not until that moment did Danny know that Bob had passed away or that his half-brother was Vince Gill. In retrospect, Danny and his mother did remember that Bob's parents last name was Gill, but the link to Vince remained unknown until that time.
Danny was saddened to hear of Bob's passing and said a prayer, although belated, for Bob's family. Danny fashioned a condolence letter and sent it to Vince in care of a Vince Gill Fan Club, but never heard back, and assumed that Vince never received the letter.
Danny still thinks often about Bob. He remembers the good times they had together, and also thinks about the difficult times Bob must have experienced after the accident. But mostly, Danny remembers Bob as a suave, ever-so-cool young man who was so full of life and wanted to live it to the fullest. This is how Danny will always remember his friend Bob Coen.
By now, anyone reading this will probably have come to the conclusion that the person writing this is Danny. You are correct, I am the other young man who was in that ill-fated Chevy SS396 that dark night of May 4, 1968. I will always cherish the fond memories I have of my friend Bob Coen.