We wrapped up our eighth annual Put the Brakes on Fatalities Day blog series. Thank you so much to everyone who participated, and a special thank you to U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx for being a part of this series for the last several years.
Some of these were heartwarming stories, and some of these were stories about tragedies. But they all showed why traffic safety is so important. Every time you get in a car, in a truck, on a motorcycle, on a bike, or even walking, getting safely where you are going must be the priority.
Yesterday, Oct. 10, was the official day to celebrate Put the Brakes on Fatalities Day, but it’s important to focus on this message all year long.

As a final safety message for this series, AT&T published a video as part of its #ITCANWAIT safety campaign – very powerful – please watch and share, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E9swS1Vl6Ok

It’s bad, really bad

By Cheryl Carlson

Jordan and Bailey

On a bitterly cold morning in January 2013, I was on my way to work deep in my own thoughts about what the day would have in store for me. Little did I know that tragedy had already struck our family. My cell phone rang and my grandson, Wyatt, was calling to tell me that his sisters had just had a bad accident on their way to school. He was panicked and crying and I could barely understand what he was telling me. He said, “Grandma it’s bad, really bad.”

I drove directly to the accident site where other family members, police, ambulance and EMS had already arrived. As I approached the mangled remains of their Jeep Liberty I experienced the most intense fear I had ever known. I saw our two sons and Wyatt all standing together and crying. Our Sheriff, Greg Riat, came over to me and gave me a big hug and encouraged me not to worry, that they would get the girls out. At that point I really didn’t even know if they were alive.

They had been wearing their seat belts but they didn’t end up in them. The force of the accident must have pulled them up and out of their seats because their seat covers had also been pulled off. But hopefully that’s what kept them in the vehicle. They had both been thrown into the back storage area of the Jeep and Jordan (age 15) was wedged into that small area on top of her sister, Bailey (age 9). There was no movement as the EMS personnel and other emergency workers frantically worked to free them. The “Jaws of Life” finally succeeded in getting the roof cut through enough to get Jordan out. She wasn’t fully conscious but thankfully was alive and in a great deal of pain.

Bailey in a body shell brace

The force of the accident had pulled both of her boots from her feet. One foot was, at some point, outside the vehicle as it rolled end over end two or three times. Due to severe head trauma, Life Star was called to transport her to Stormont Vail. I can still hear that helicopter as it landed in the field near the accident and then the complete feeling of helplessness and fear as it left…and the tears I have in my eyes now as I relive that horrible day.

As the helicopter lifted off, I called Richard at the Capitol to tell him of the accident and to have him go directly to the hospital to meet the helicopter. Then our attention was focused back on Bailey who was by now, moaning and crying and trying to move. Her pain was so intense that all she could do was scream. It was freezing cold, about 9 degrees, and her new coat was cut off of her to help get her free. We had just given that coat to her for Christmas and she was not happy. Finally, after almost an hour she was placed on a board and I’ll never forget what she said. A female EMS member asked her about her pain and wanted to know if her pelvis hurt. She replied, “I don’t know what a pelvis is!” That was the only bright spot up to that moment.

She was transported to Stormont Vail by ambulance. She and her sister were in the Trauma Center for about 36 hours and then were well enough to be in the PICU. Jordan had to have surgery to repair a toe that was mangled and after about six days in the hospital was allowed to come home. Bailey had compression fractures of every bone in her back and was in excruciating pain for days. She was fitted with a neck brace and a body “shell” brace that she had to wear for about 6 weeks. After being released from the hospital she had to go to the Madonna Center in Lincoln for a short while and came home about three weeks later.

The accident happened on a gravel road when Jordan got too close to a ridge of frozen rock. It threw her across the road at which time she over compensated and shot back across. Her front axle came off. Then she hit a wall of the ditch which threw them end over end into the pasture. She, like most farm kids, learn to drive at an early age. The accident was probably due to a lack of experience of driving in general, and driving on gravel which is a totally different ball game.

Now both girls are doing just fine. Jordan has graduated from high school and is beginning studies in nursing. Bailey is now an active 8th grader who is a cheerleader. She has taken dance since the accident, loves to swim and loves to ride her horse, Renegade. We are so blessed to have them in our lives and cherish every hug we share.

Cheryl Carlson is the wife of KDOT Interim Secretary Richard Carlson


Tragedies that can’t be reversed

By John Milburn

There’s an old saying I’ve heard from veterans describing war or vacationers coming back from an exotic locale: you wouldn’t understand until you’ve been there yourself.
In a way, I have been when it comes to traffic crashes. Oh, I’ve had a few fender-benders, but nothing like what I witnessed in my previous life as a reporter in small communities in Kansas. Those opportunities afforded me access to some of the most horrific and tragic crashes one can imagine.
One of the first was in the summer of 1986 while working on my last night of an internship in Pittsburg. Regular staff members were taking their vacations so I filled in while they were gone. My summer ended on the cops and court beat. The court side was easy as there were few happenings worth reporting during that stretch. The police beat was a bit different and quite enlightening to what reporters and emergency responders face on any given call.
This particular evening a call came in over the scanner of a two-car accident near the airport northwest of town. Our photographer and I grabbed gear and headed out to what we suspected was a bad scene. And it was.
Two teens had “borrowed” mom’s car and were out driving country roads at a high rate of speed when they blew through an intersection and collided broadside with a pick-up truck. The truck was knocked into a field and heavily damaged. We could see the EMS crews working to save the young driver. And just like in the movies, sparks and smoke were coming from the vehicle, giving a sense of urgency.
Where was the other vehicle? What was left of the small car was a crumpled heap near the fence row. The two young boys were thrown from the car and lie dead in the tall weeds in the ditch. I didn’t know them, but knew they weren’t much younger than me. In an instant, what seemed like a fun summer night driving around town turned deadly.
Those images stuck with me through college and my first job in Arkansas City where I was a reporter and editor. A similar call came in the newsroom one afternoon about the time school was letting out. A one-car accident was reported in the northwest part of the county.
We pulled to the scene and EMS and fire crews were working the accident. A young man had lost control of his car and crashed into a fence row. He was killed instantly.
I share these stories as a former reporter and as a current parent. They are images that are forever etched in my memories. They were so-called war stories that reporters share when discussing what they’ve done over the years. But as a parent now of two teens that are learning to drive, they serve as teaching moments that cause me to tense up each time they are behind the wheel.
Not every trip out of the driveway will end in tragedy, but I want my children—everyone’s children— to know the risks. It’s dangerous enough under normal circumstances for these young drivers to navigate town. Adding too much speed, hazardous weather or all of the distractions of modern technology and the risks multiply.
I don’t want some young reporter to ever have to walk up to a crash and see another child injured or killed. While they may be good teaching moments or stories to share back at the newsroom, they are tragedies that can’t be reversed.
John Milburn is the Director of Legislative and Public Affairs for the Kansas Department of Administration