Brian and Erin Wood
Brian and Erin Wood

One of the comforting lies we tell ourselves is that the legacy we will leave behind us is the sum of everything that we’ve done; all the little kindnesses we shared, the small victories we achieved. The virtues, in other words, of years.

That’s true for some people. But others make their legacies in a rush. Fate forces decisions upon them, giving them only seconds to choose. And how they choose is how they are remembered.

Brian Wood is one of the latter.

Up until this month, he was a pretty ordinary guy leading a pretty ordinary life. He was a young man — 33 years old. He’d had some success in his career, working as a game designer at Relic Entertainment on that company’s popular Company of Heroes titles. And he was starting a family; his wife, Erin, was pregnant with their first child.

Then, on September 9, he and his wife got into their car, heading out to visit family. And fate intervened.

The accident happened Friday as the Woods were making their way to a family home on Whidbey Island in Washington State.

A Chevy Blazer, with four occupants, crossed the centre line when the driver tried to take her sweater off while driving, asking the other front passenger to take the wheel at the time.

The Blazer, having swerved into the opposite lane, was now speeding straight towards a head-on collision with the Woods. The young family was in a small Subaru wagon; it was clear that in a crash with the hulking Blazer their vehicle — and its occupants — would suffer terribly. But with the SUV bearing down on them quickly and swerving unpredictably, there was no way to avoid the collision.

So, in those terrible seconds, Brian Wood made his decision:

As the car hurtled at them head-on, Brian braked hard and swerved to the right, ensuring he would take the brunt of the crash as the Blazer slammed into them.

“It’s pretty obvious if you look at the car that if it would have been a head-on crash, we both would have been killed, right along with our baby,” Erin Wood told Carl Quintanilla on TODAY Monday from Vancouver.

“He definitely saved us. He made that choice, and I’m thankful for that.”

Brian Wood’s last-minute maneuver put his body between his wife and child and two tons of metal. It killed him. But it saved the lives of his family.

In circumstances like these, we can never really know how a person makes the decisions they make. Even they probably don’t know; in moments of crisis we stop thinking and operate on instinct. So we’ll never know what ran through Brian Wood’s mind as he hit the brakes and wrenched the wheel; we can never know if he consciously attempted to shield his wife, or if his actions were driven by something more sub-conscious, more primal.

But in the end, it doesn’t matter. In these moments, we are judged by how we react. And Brian Wood’s reaction saved the lives of his wife and child.

The test of love is fire. You only discover its true temper when it is placed into the flames. But to put it there, you have to go in with it. And some who go in never come back out.

Brian Wood is gone. But his sacrifice allowed his family to live on. And that’s as true an act of love as you’ll find, in this world or the next.

(If you’d like to help the Wood family, a Brian Wood Memorial Trust has been established to help support them. Please consider giving.)



October 13, 2010
2:09 pm

I’m glad that his widow can hang onto the belief that he swerved so that he would die and they would live, but anyone who has been in a car accident can attest to the fact that you jerk the wheel almost instinctively, and usually to the side that your brain knows the oncoming object is not on. Sometimes there’s something else on that other side, like another car or a bridge, but I would think it would be extremely rare for a person in a high speed crash to veer to the left, into the oncoming vehicle. I don’t think it really has anything to do with character.
Even so, it’s very, very sad. I don’t think I’ll ever come to terms with why some people live long, happy lives and other people’s are cut short or left to live in the aftermath of a loss like this. I feel so sorry for them.