Marie Medina had been pondering the unexpected and how she could prepare for life's unforeseen disasters, especially with her extended family in Haiti dealing with the earthquake's death and destruction.
Saturday, the unexpected came, appearing in her rearview mirror as a fuel tanker overtaking her car.
"All I know, I saw the truck coming at a speed," Medina, of Bayonne, N.J., said. "I thought, 'Oh my gosh, this truck doesn't see me.' I said, 'God, protect me.' "
Medina, who turns 30 Sunday, considers it a miracle that she was able to walk away from the crash in which the tanker hit her car, crashed and burst into flames on the Long Island Expressway. And though she was saddened to later learn that the truck driver died, she was astonished that no one else was hurt.
"I don't know how the truck ended up in front of me, how I managed to come out OK," she said. "God, of course, protected me, but my human mind can't really make sense out of it."
Medina, a financial analyst, was driving eastbound to her parents' home in Farmingville to celebrate her 30th birthday a day early, she said. That was when she started to have trouble with her car. The 2001 Dodge Neon, which was in the middle lane, was sluggish and not able to keep up with other cars, she said. She turned her hazard lights on and cars began to go around her. Suddenly, there was this truck, approaching faster than the other cars, she said.
"I know there was some glare from the sun, so I don't know if that obstructed his vision," she said. "When he tried to swerve, it was too late."
She jerked forward from the impact as broken glass showered on her, she said. Her car stopped on the side of the road.
She tried to open the driver's side door, which seemed to be jammed. Then she struggled to open the passenger-side door. Another motorist managed to open it and carry her out, she said.
"The truck was already burning," Medina said. "He was telling me, 'Let's get away from the car because it might explode,' and we started running away from it."
Medina's parents hugged her and cried when they picked her up at Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow, Medina said.
The last year has been difficult for her family, who have not only been deeply concerned for relatives in Haiti but are also grieving the loss of Medina's sister, Chelsea, 12, who had a congenital brain condition. She had several surgeries and lived an active life, but died unexpectedly last January. The family isn't sure why.
"I am kind of shaky because we are recovering from losing a daughter last year and all of these things going on in Haiti, and then we almost lost a daughter," said Edouard Medina, 56, of Farmingville, an auditor with the state Insurance Department. "I don't know how she walked out of this accident alive."
In recent days, the Medinas, who are from Haiti but have lived in the United States for more than two decades, have been worried about relatives. A cousin of Marie's mother lost his entire family when their hillside home collapsed, she said. Her father, meanwhile, is trying to help his siblings move to the outskirts of Port-au-Prince.
Living with sadness and joy is something Edouard Medina knows well. He is overwhelmed that his daughter walked away from the crash, but also feels badly that someone was killed.
"She lost a car, she lost all her files, but that is nothing compared to what could have happened," he said. "I believe somebody lost his life, and this is something that is going to haunt us for a long time."