TAMPA — He rose before the sun on Saturday, tiptoed past his family and wrapped his hands around the steering wheel of his secondhand Honda for another 15-hour shift crisscrossing Tampa Bay as an Uber driver. Seats wiped, floors swept and radio on, Almir Becirovic shifted the minivan into drive.
Thirty-five and a father of three, Becirovic has been a ride-share driver for six of the 11 years he’s lived in the United States, a place he said offered the possibility and opportunity that his homeland Bosnia never could.
Across town, Luis Lopez was sleeping. His parents moved from Honduras for similar reasons, searching for good jobs and good schools. He is a boyish 19 and a construction worker, just like his dad.
Around 5 p.m. Lopez fetched a table he found on Facebook. He was close to home when he felt the right back tire of the 16-year-old Tacoma give way. It pulled him left. Then the truck flipped across State Road 60.
Meanwhile, Becirovic was driving John and Crystal Fox and their two daughters from the airport. They’d been up north for spring break. Nothing like the feeling of returning home, Becirovic told them.
Then the red pickup came into view, careening across the asphalt like a pinball.
“Can we stop and help?” Becirovic said.
“Of course,” the Foxes replied.
Becirovic pulled into a patch of grass off the highway ramp. Keys still in, radio still on. The girls, ages 5 and 8, still buckled in. The adults leapt toward the scattered debris and spilling oil.
The pickup came to rest on its side.
And so unfolded one of the six crashes Tampa police would respond to that hour.
“Give me your hand,” Becirovic told the young man, hauling him out of the gaping passenger window.
“Can you call my mom?” Lopez asked.
Someone — another samaritan, who, he isn’t sure — pulled out their phone and dialed.
“Oh, Luis, oh, baby,” wailed the voice at the other end.
“Don’t worry, he is walking,” Becirovic soothed. “He is good, he is OK.”
Becirovic dabbed wounds on his hands and face with wet wipes. Others helped, too. Someone called 911. As cars swished by, strangers did what they could.
In the minutes, hours and days to come, so much would happen. But there would be no gathering in churches or living rooms or roadside vigils to mourn another life.
The Fox family arrived home and unpacked their suitcases. “Truly miraculous,” said John, a 39-year-old public affairs consultant. He would remember how earlier, in an effort to soothe his daughters unsettled by plane turbulence, he’d said: “It’s safer to fly than drive.”
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First responders tidied traces of the crash from this ribbon of road. Police handed Lopez a $163 traffic citation for careless driving.
Becirovic resumed his ride-share crisscross and would wake at 4 a.m. for work the next morning and one after. Uber called to commend his actions. He wondered what happened to the person he helped pull from the truck.
Lopez was taken to St. Joseph’s Hospital, where doctors told him how lucky he was to emerge just bandaged and bruised. His parents brought him to the one-story Tampa home he shares with five siblings. Three days later, from a plastic chair in his front yard, he looked at the table bought from Facebook and the truck’s crumpled remains and said: “Yes, so lucky.”
“Eso fue dios,” his mother added, pointing to the sky. That was God.