Room to Live

Investigative reporter Trish Van Pilsum at Fox 9 TV station in Minneapolis, Minnesota, says, "At first, it's eerie to climb into a car in which someone has died. But then I realized they didn't actually die here, but in the ditch...or on the road. If they'd stayed here, they might not be dead at all."

Watch this powerful and heart-wrenching video news story from April 2010 and see why she calls this story "Room to Live."
Click here to view the video.

It Could Have Been Terrible

By Jeff Romine
I have done maintenance work on the highways for KDOT for more than 29 years. I have been in and seen many accidents and injuries in my time here, but one day in particular stands out.
It started out like any other typical June day, but it would soon be a day I would always remember. I gave out job assignments that morning, like normal.  One of them was to my Equipment Operator Specialist who I sent to assist the Bridge Inspection crew from the district office on an inspection project. 
About three hours later, I received a call about a KDOT truck involved in an accident.  It was only about a five-mile to drive to accident scene, but it was a long five miles.  I didn’t know if anybody had been hurt or killed, or who was involved.

When I finally got there

I realized this was where the inspection crew and my EO Specialist were working. I pulled up and I noticed the bridge inspection truck and a motorist’s vehicle on its side with somebody in it. But I didn’t see my person or his vehicle, and my heart missed a beat or two.  Then I finally saw him - he was down the road providing traffic control.
After talking to everyone involved, I found out that all the KDOT workers were out of their vehicles and under the bridge working when they heard a crash. They saw my EO Specialist’s truck pushed off the road about 100 yards down into the ditch. The truck hit so hard, it pushed trees down in the ditch.
The motorist’s vehicle then hit the inspection crew’s truck, which was parked about 75 feet away. If the workers had been coming up from under the bridge and been near the vehicles, it could have been terrible.
The driver was taken to the hospital and was fine.  He said that he didn’t see the lights going on any of the vehicles.  
Overall, we were very lucky to not have anybody hurt or killed. I would just like to remind everybody – pay attention. If you see lights, slow down, check your surroundings and get over if possible.
Jeff Romine is a KDOT Supervisor in Eskridge

Mentoring Behind the Wheel

By Bill Snyder
Do I complete my chores or just continue to lie around the house?    Homework or Facebook? Should I play X-box or study for that math test tomorrow?  We are just going down the block; do I really need my seat belt?  These are the kind of choices and challenges that our young people face every day. While the answer to some of these choices seems trivial, others can be the difference between life and death. 
Whether we are a parent, guardian, teacher, older sibling or just a friend, we must realize that those younger than us will emulate what we do.  If we are constantly watching TV and avoiding our responsibilities, the people watching us will do the same.  If we get in a vehicle and fail to put on our seat belt, no matter how far we are going, those watching us will likely think that is an acceptable behavior. If we are texting and driving, some might say, “Hey, if they do it, why can’t I?”

Traffic crashes are the number one killer of youngsters in Kansas. 

Every day we are faced with many challenges and choices found behind the wheel. No matter the length of the trip, always wear your seatbelt, and don’t start the vehicle until everyone else is buckled.  Avoid distractions, never text and drive, and pull over to a safe location to make or receive that phone call. Never drink and drive, or ride in a car with a driver who has been drinking.
By following the rules of the road, you will encourage young people to make the right decisions and show that driving requires full and undivided attention.  You can be a good mentor and have a tremendous influence on the youth of our community and the loved ones in your life.
Bill Snyder is the Kansas State University Head Football Coach

God Was Watching Over Me

By Rachel Tharman
I’ll never truly forget what happened on June 6, 2011. It may have started out like any normal day, but little did I know what was soon to happen. I had planned on going to a friend’s going away parting later that evening, but instead I ended upside down in my car not too far from home.
When I arrived at my friend’s house, I realized that there was going to be a lot of water involved. I didn’t have my swim suit with me, so I decided to head home to grab some clothes and come right back to the party. Only I never quite made it home.
My friend lived on a gravel road, so naturally I was driving in the center to avoid any pot holes and because that’s how people drive on those types of roads. I had seen a truck down the road coming my way, so I was moving over to my side so we could both pass. I hit a soft spot and my car started to fishtail. I over corrected, lost control of my car, started spinning, and then I blacked out.

I woke up a few short minutes later.

My car had flipped, and I was safely inside. I didn’t really know what to think. I did, however, know that I did not wish to stay upside down. So I unbuckled and crawled out of the passenger side window, probably not the smartest idea, but I wasn’t really thinking that I should stay in there and wait for the ambulance. At that point in time I could only think about how my parents were going to kill me and how I wanted to be back with my friends.
It wasn’t until later that I realized what saved my life in that wreck. There were three main possibilities and I believe all to be true. The first was that God decided it was not my time to go. Second was that I had been wearing my seat belt, otherwise I guarantee that I would not be here today. Lastly was my headrest being above my head. When the roof of my car came caving in, my headrest kept it from crushing my neck.
I called my parents and they arrived about 20 minutes later. My dad looked so scared and gave me a huge hug when he saw me. My mom looked like she was about to cry and was real white as she gave me a huge hug as well. They hadn’t known how bad the wreck was, only that I was doing alright and had no need to go to the hospital. I had never seen my parents so frightened in their lives.
At first it was hard to get back behind the wheel, but I didn’t have a choice. Now looking back on the accident, I don’t remember it all too much, and it’s probably for the better. Sure I can tell you what happened and I can go into detail here and there. Sometimes I just can’t believe that it actually happened and it feels like I’m telling a story I heard or read, not something real or anything I had actually experienced. I can’t really say that any of this has affected me all that much emotionally, but what I can say is that it had a great impact on my life.
One of the best things I had gotten out of that wreck was being able to share my story. I was able to talk in front of a few hundred people, even if I was terrified at first. I got to explain how I survived, how it had impacted me, what I could have lost but instead had gained. It felt good to know that I was doing something helpful and educational. Not to mention that afterwards I had people come up to me saying how that story changed them or touched them in some way. For me to do something like that, it’s a feeling I can’t describe. But it is absolutely amazing, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Rachel Tharman is a student at Butler County Community College

One wrong decision

By Matt Vogt
When I was asked to participate in this blog, I knew immediately which experience I would talk about. What I did not know was that the next day I would have a second incident in which to share. And that they would occur 12 years and one month to the day of each other. Two, single-vehicle fatality accident cases that could have been prevented had two people made a different choice. And these two cases also share the fact that people both lived and died in these crashes.
In July 2000, I helped investigate a crash on 69th Street between Seneca and Interurban. Five lives specifically were affected this day:  a 14-year-old occupant who had been ejected from the vehicle due to not wearing a seat belt was killed; another occupant that was unconscious and would be in a coma for several weeks due to a severe head injury; and another female occupant who was partially pinned in the vehicle.  Two other occupants walked away from the crash with only minor injuries. 

Deeply affected

In addition to these people, the lives of their families and friends were deeply affected as well because someone lost their life. The choices here are that people did not wear their seatbelts and a vehicle traveling at a speed that was not prudent for the road conditions. Of course at that time, the seat belt laws were not what they are today, but it had been shown how effective they were in saving lives.
My second experience happened just this past August. I responded to another single-vehicle crash in which a driver lost control of his vehicle. He died from his injuries but his passenger survived without any injury. Again, someone again made a choice that not only cost them their own life, but impacted the lives of others. And again there are family and friends that have to grieve over the loss of a loved one.
So the lessons learned in these two cases are simple: Wear your seatbelt and don’t speed.  And, please don’t drink and drive.  I also ask you to take your thoughts one step further: Think of your friends and loved ones who will have to suffer for that one wrong decision.
Sgt. Matt Vogt serves with the police department in Valley Center

Disastrous Results

By Rande Repp
From a scientific perspective, we live in a truly curious four-dimensional world: length, width, depth, and time. When viewed from “outside the box," the chances of anything cohesively existing simultaneously in all four dimensions at any given point is infinitesimally small. The chances of any two cohesive entities attempting to coexist in the same point is even smaller.
However, every year someone attempts to beat the odds. I remember a day during a recent summer when events converged into one such point with disastrous results. Approximately 800 pounds of steel, plastic, rubber, and human flesh attempted to occupy the same space as a separate unit of steel, glass, rubber, and human flesh.
In simple terms, a car made a left turn in front of a motorcycle. The motorcycle was traveling at a sufficiently high speed as to preclude much of an opportunity for turns or evasive maneuvering. The rider was an experienced rider who knew the proper application of emergency threshold braking. However, velocity was greater than friction and without a sufficient amount of time to reduce the velocity, the equation was unbalanced and destined for disaster.

Changing a part of the equation

Any part of the equation probably would not have resulted in tragedy. Riding slower would undoubtedly helped. If the driver of the car had taken a second glance and perceived the truly high speed at which the cycle was approaching, that would have helped. If the cycle had been another few yards forward or backwards of its rendezvous with destiny, things would have turned out differently. If the driver of the car had pulled away from the stop sign at a higher or slower rate of acceleration and/or turn angle, a collision may have been averted or less severe. As it was, the teeth on the key lined up perfectly and the lock opened.
An external observer may have noted that this particular intersection exists for only a brief span of years in the vast tapestry of time. For a majority of this brief span of time the intersection is empty of vehicles; cars pass through in a few seconds while it stands vacant for minutes or hours. The observer may also note the coefficient of friction of the roadway surface, the braking efficiency of the motorcycle, the weight of the car and the cycle, the approach and departure angles of the vehicles, and physical evidence such as impact marks and blood spatter on the pavement.
These observations and measurements may be mathematically analyzed to indicate speed, perception/reaction time, and a host of other scientifically valid information. The crash can be digitally reconstructed to show a frame-by-frame reenactment.
However, no matter how much data is analyzed and how many calculations are performed, the true story can never be electronically conveyed. The depth and breadth of the incident are portrayed by weeping relatives; by an empty seat in a classroom the following semester; by grieving parents who have only fading photographs to remember a son or daughter; by a driver who has to live with the consequences of a mere second of inattention for the rest of a lifetime.
Please, slow down, wear a helmet, pay attention to your surroundings, and drive defensively. Reading a text or winning a cycle race may seem important at the time, but moments later it could be the worst (and last) choice you ever made.
Officer Rande Repp is with the Salina Police Department

Danger on the Tracks

By Scott Krause
Railroads and their employees are concerned for your safety. They want to be a good citizen in your community, but there are things that you can do to reduce the chance that you or someone close to you will be injured or killed by a train.
Please remember that railway tracks are for trains and trains are big and heavy. If you have no reason to be close to the tracks, stay away from them. Recently in Maryland, there was a train derailment - two 19-year-old women were sitting on one side of the railway bridge with their backs to the tracks as the train passed a few feet behind them. Something happened that caused the train to derail. Their bodies were found buried under coal dumped from the train cars.

Expect a train at any time.

Railroad tracks and trains are dangerous places to pose for photographs. This is an unsafe practice. Often by the time the train crew can see you, it is too late to stop.
Be aware of railroad crossings where there are two or more tracks. If a train is stopped on one track and is blocking the view of the next track, it is best to avoid the crossing. Many vehicles are hit by trains because the driver of the vehicle sees that a train is stopped and he assumes it is safe to cross. This is a potential trap.
In places where there are three tracks it is an even higher risk. If flashing lights are on stay off the crossing. Increasingly in communities where residents would like to reduce the noise of train whistles “No Whistle” zones have been put in place. It is very important to be aware of the passing of trains in these areas since they don’t whistle as they did in the past and often pedestrians and motorist are caught off guard and surprised.
Remember safety signals such as flashing lights and gates at crossings are mechanical devices. Failure is very rare but it can happen. Always approach a railroad crossing with care. Turn down the stereo, put down the cell phone and look both ways at a railroad crossing even if the crossing lights and gates are not on.
If your family lives close to a railroad track, please help all members of your family to understand that trains are dangerous and can move at any time. Do not walk or ride in any vehicle next to tracks.
Please remember to use common sense around trains and railroad tracks. Keep yourself at a safe distance and remember it takes a long time for a train to stop.
Scott Krause is a locomotive engineer in Kansas City. He has work in railroad industry for 17 years.



A moment of inattention

By Pat Inman

On June 8, 1986, the KDOT District Three materials crews were doing some asphalt core drilling to determine asphalt thickness, asphalt content, aggregate gradations, etc. I was flagging traffic on the south end of the project located on U.S. 283 approximately 3 miles south of Norton.

The drilling location was in the northbound lane of the road requiring traffic to transition over into the southbound lane, then back after going around the drilling equipment. All traffic control was in place according to the current requirements, including signs, traffic cones, and vehicles with flashing lights.

As traffic approached from the south, I motioned the lead vehicle over into the southbound lane. The driver of the vehicle following behind failed to notice the lane change of the car in front of it and maintained its path in the northbound lane where I was flagging traffic.

A distraction or moment of inattention caused a catastrophic and life changing accident. Thankfully I wasn’t killed as a result and there were no other injuries to coworkers or damage to equipment. I suffered compound fractures to both legs, broken bones in my hand, a broken vertebra in my neck, and cuts and scrapes to my head and ear which required over 300 stitches and 5 reconstructive plastic surgeries, along with a serious concussion. I am very fortunate to have recovered with very little long term damage.       

Safety cannot be “overdone.”

We used every traffic control device available to us, and all workers were veteran employees with over 15 years experience in work zone safety requirements. Even with all the safety measures in place, a moment of distraction or inattention can result in accidents. All workers need to be constantly aware of traffic and potential hazards. While driving, in a work zone, or anywhere, one needs to be acutely aware of everything going on around them.

Today there are even more distractions, cell phones, ipods, gps units, etc. to cause a lapse in attention that could be devastating, or fatal. When you operate any vehicle you are committed to be responsible for its safe operation, both morally and legally.

Engineering Technician Patrick Inman retired in 2005 after 34 years of service at KDOT


Doesn’t Take But a Second

By Lory Williams
     Roadway safety. Sometimes we take it for granted. It seems we all know it, but, we get busy, or simply forget.
     Several years ago, our daughter worked as a traveling medical person. She worked the shifts of others who were scheduled to be gone, sick or on vacation. At the time, raising children on her own, she lived in the country, and one morning about 4:30 a.m. she was on the country road headed for the closest paved road when right in front of her, on her side of the road, but barely pulled to the side, was a huge tractor and disc, with no reflectors! Luckily she was wide awake, and not going fast or she would not be alive today.

It was definitely a scary day for us all.

     So our lesson that day was NEVER take for granted that others are always paying attention. One farmer, in a hurry, or maybe a young person not thinking that road was used much, just didn't pull the equipment off the road.
     You also hear about accidents in the country at harvest time. When I was in high school, we all had a favorite, fun teacher. It was in the fall and harvest time. Most of the corners in that area were tall, and we were normally very careful at the intersections.
     But, one evening, headed home, in a hurry I'm sure, our teacher came upon some harvesters. It was very dusty, and she was behind a truck, which she followed for a ways. Then, she thought it was clear to pass, and when she did, another truck hit her head on, killing her and her unborn child. It was a very sad day for sure.
     During harvest, or, on any dusty roads, it's better to be late than to be in a hurry and not make it.
     Roadway safety is of utmost importance.  Let's remember, it doesn't take but a second for something to happen.

 Lory Williams is the Farm Broadcaster at KBUF in Garden City


Life-saving equipment

By Mike Crow

I have an intimate interest in motorcycle safety since I had a motorcycle accident September 2006.  I believe my motorcycle safety equipment saved my life.
Here are some details of my accident. I was three miles from my home after a Saturday morning breakfast ride with some of friends when a car in front of me suddenly slammed on their breaks. I reacted by slamming on my breaks and my motorcycle dove to the left which threw me into the opposing driving lane.

I landed on the pavement.

Almost immediately I got up and moved to the side of the road and realized my left knee was in pain. Kind people stopped and helped me by calling 911, which brought an ambulance within minutes. I had shattered my left knee but not a scratch anywhere else.
After I got home from the hospital someone brought my motorcycle jacket and helmet to me and I noticed a large spot on my helmet where my head hit the pavement and several tears on my padded motorcycle jacket. I believe that if I was not wearing the helmet and jacket I would have been very seriously injured if not dead.
That morning I had decided not to wear my padded motorcycle pants and just wore jeans. It is possible that the pads in the knees of the motorcycle pants may have cushioned the impact as I hit the road and prevented my knee injury.
My safety equipment probably saved my life. As my friend Bruce always says “You only have to wear your safety equipment when you plan on going down.” Of course we don’t know when that is.
Mike Crow is the Director of the Kansas Asphalt Pavement Association and a KDOT retiree


Could Have Been

By Casey Simoneau
I had just gotten home from work one afternoon and had gone to attend my son’s soccer game.  While at the game, I received a call that I was needed to respond to a fatality accident.  I went home and put on my uniform and responded to the accident scene.
When I arrived, I was informed that we had two fatality victims and one was a child.  The worst type of fatality for me to work is one that involves a child.  No fatality is easy nor do you forget about them, but feelings are compounded when an innocent child becomes a victim. 
This particular accident occurred when one vehicle driving west crossed the center median and struck the other vehicle.  The driver of the westbound vehicle died and a child from the eastbound vehicle died.  The other three passengers of the westbound vehicle (including another child) survived. 
The scene investigation was completed and the traffic was allowed back through the area, but the job and the pain are still not over.  The hardest part of working a fatality is the aftermath.
A few days later I met with the family of the child.  The pain of their loss could be seen on their faces.   The other child involved in the accident was also there and I was able to give her a Trooper Bear, but unfortunately that will never bring back her brother.  I spoke with the family for approximately an hour.  I answered many questions and helped bring answers to why this situation had occurred.  So many questions were asked that I could not answer. 

Two families lost loved ones. 

They will never have the opportunity to hold that person in their arms again or tell them how they feel about them.  They will have to continue living with only the memories that remain about that person.  The death of the people involved will weigh in the minds of both of these families. 
What is forgotten is the impact of a fatality accident on the law enforcement community.  We have a job to do and we complete that job with professionalism and to the best of our ability.  However, this does not take away the emotional strain that this has on each law enforcement officer that is involved with these accidents.  We each think and wonder if the accident could have been avoided if I were patrolling that area at that time and able to stop the vehicle that crossed over.  Maybe two loved ones could have been saved.  Maybe two families could have been saved. 
I view each of these incidents as a learning experience.  As the motoring public, each driver makes decisions that may or may not affect the lives of other people.  Whether a driver decides to get into a vehicle after drinking, doing drugs or isn’t paying attention while driving may adversely affect someone else’s life forever.  In this instance not only did a bad decision adversely affect other people’s lives, but it cost the lives of two people. 
There are now two families that will not be able to talk to their loved ones again due to a bad decision by one of the drivers.  As a Trooper, it causes me to appreciate my son and appreciate the time that I get with him.  A life can be taken from us in a matter of seconds - and as a father and a Trooper, I understand the effect that can have on a family and a community.
Casey Simoneau is a Technical Trooper with the Kansas Highway Patrol

A Life Changing Chapter

By Carlotta Meeker
You know, I never thought that something as simple as wearing a seat belt could really save someone’s life when I was younger. When I started driving as a junior at Andover High School, I would always tell my sister that I wouldn’t start the car until she put her seat belt on.
One day in the fall of 2005 my sister and I left the band room at the high school, never thinking that anything would happen, as we got to the vehicle. Getting in the vehicle I waited to start the car until both of us had our seat belts on.
As I started to turn out to merge onto Andover Road, a car whipped out of the other end of the school parking lot and hit me at 40+mph in a school zone. She hit the driver side of my Ford Probe and spun the car around, shattering all the windows and shifting the dash.

It all happened so fast

I wasn’t for sure what had occurred until the officer came to my car. It was hard for the police officer to handle what he saw because he was our Safety Resource Officer at the school and I was covered in glass and cut up. I had to “Dukes of Hazard” to get out of my car because there was no way to open the door.
If it hadn’t been for the bracing bar in the driver’s door, I would have received the full impact of the car. I was also informed by the officer and my doctor that it was a good thing that my sister and I were wearing our seat belts.
From this accident, I broke my ribs, messed up my sternum, and got a concussion but I survived. It made me realize how important seat belts really are and how they saved my life. Being safe is important because anything can happen that can change the outcome of our life.
Today we hear about people who die in crashes who would still be with us today if they had been wearing seat belt. It just goes to show that taking those few seconds to strap yourself in can really change your life.
Carlotta is a grad student at the University of Central Oklahoma