No ho-ho-ho, but message is smashing all the same

THE BALTIMORE SUN

YOU KNOW the old saying about how if life serves you lemons, make lemonade? Dick Frankenfield and his family are the home office for this kind of relentless, cockeyed optimism.

This explains the two wrecked cars in front of their Timonium home, the Ford Explorer smashed atop the Mazda Miata and the whole thing decorated with Christmas lights, something you generally see only at your finer hillbilly junkyards.

It also explains the big cardboard "Don't Drink and Drive" sign on the Explorer's bumper. Because the person who caused this wreck - which, for the record, was no one in the Frankenfield household - probably had a few cocktails before tearing through the neighborhood like Sidney Ponson on a personal watercraft.

But that's getting ahead of things.

Our story begins at 1 a.m. on Christmas Eve. Dick and Debe Frankenfield were asleep as required by law, since both are over 40.

Their daughter Kelly had just returned home with her boyfriend Kyle when they heard a loud bang out in the street.

As Santa was not due for another 24 hours or so and this noise sounded more like an asteroid touching down than a sleigh, Kelly looked out the window.

"Dad!" she screamed. "Someone just hit our car!"

This, of course, is not the kind of thing you want to hear upon first awakening, on Christmas Eve or any other time.

Dick got dressed and ran outside. Something - apparently another car, traveling very fast - had smashed into the family's Explorer and pushed it atop their Miata, which was also crumpled.

Shattered glass and metal scraps littered the street. The smell of burning tires filled the air.

But the other car was gone. A quick search of the immediate area, however, revealed it hadn't gone far. Instead, it had plowed into a neighbor's yard three doors up. It lay there smoldering, with both airbags activated.

"At this point I'm thinking: 'Oh, no, there's going to be a body in there,'" Dick Frankenfield recalled.

But there was no body, thank God. And no body anywhere nearby. Whoever was in the car had bolted.

Great, the Frankenfields thought. Merry Christmas to you, too.

The police arrived. They said whoever caused the accident had to be going 80 mph, easy. They traced the abandoned car's registration and gave Dick a name and phone number. The cops said they'd find whoever caused the accident and press charges.

When they left, Dick called the number, which was disconnected. His daughter Googled the name, got another number. Dick called and left a message on the answering machine - not a ho-ho-ho-thanks-for-wrecking-my-cars message, just something saying there had been an accident and to please call him.

He and Debe went to bed around 4 a.m.

At 9:30 that morning, the phone rang. A young man's voice on the other end said: "I'm the one that hit your car."

The young man sounded subdued and contrite.

"Are you all right?" Dick asked.

"I got a hell of a headache," the man said.

"Why did you leave?" Dick asked.

"I just blacked out," the young man answered. And when Dick quizzed him about whether he'd been drinking - the cops said the accident scene had all the hallmarks of a drunken driver not wanting to be caught - the man was evasive.

So now it was Christmas Eve day. And guess what? Suddenly the Frankenfields were not exactly filled with the Christmas spirit.

Both their cars lay smashed and crumpled in front of their house. The Explorer had just had $1,000 worth of front end work done to it, too. And the Miata's convertible roof had just been replaced.

"Debe was very upset," Dick recalled. "She was still crying."

Which is when Dick Frankenfield went into full lemons-to-lemonade mode.

First he told their younger daughter Kimmee to go up to the attic and grab some Christmas lights. Then the two went out to the smashed cars and decorated them with blinking multicolored lights and candy canes.

This helped brighten Debe's mood. "Make sure you put a sign on it that says 'Don't Drink and Drive,'" she told them.

So they did. And suddenly one Timonium neighborhood had one of the most effective monuments to the danger of drunken driving you'll ever see.

Thus far, the twinkling wrecks are a huge hit. On Christmas morning, the Frankenfields awoke to find two giant red bows decorating the wrecks, courtesy of their neighbors.

All the neighbors love it. And passing motorists tend to gawk at it and do U-turns for another look, since it's not exactly the lighted-reindeer, illuminated-Frosty decorations you see in front of most houses.

Dick Frankenfield says he plans to leave the wreck lighting up for a few more days.

He hasn't heard back from the police on what happened to the young man who smashed into his cars. In the meantime, Frankenfield is girding for a battle with the insurance company of the young man's mother, who owns the car.

It wasn't the greatest holiday season, the Frankenfields say.

But the Christmas of the Smashed Cars isn't one they'll ever forget, either.

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