An ambitious dream

By Larry Emig
     "Imagine...a day with ZERO traffic fatalities" was the first Put the Brakes on Fatalities Day message shared in 2001 when the program was initiated during an October 10th Ceremony on the  steps of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.  In the five years leading up to 2001 nearly 42,000 fatalities were occurring each year on our nation's roadways.  This meant nearly 115 individuals died every day or one every 13 minutes.
     In recent years, the Put the Brakes on Fatalities Day program has supported other organizations by promoting "Towards ZERO Fatalities - One Day at a time."  During this time, our specific safety message "Don't be Driven by "Distraction - Drive to Arrive," has focused on the distracted driver.   This was done to address the increasing number of fatalities caused by the use of mobile phones.
     Since 2007, there has been a steady decline in the total number of fatalities from slightly over 41,000 to nearly 32,400 in 2011 or the latest year with NHTSA's official fatality count.  This is an average of nearly 90 per day or one every 16 minutes.
     Good things have happened involving traffic safety the last several years to help bring about the reduction in fatalities – seat belt usage rates have increased, improvements have been made to roadway designs, continued maintenance and new construction have been occurred on many roadways, and enhancements have been made to vehicular safety.  On the other hand, distracted driving has skyrocketed, impaired driving is still a major concern and seat belt use amongst teen is not nearly as high as we would like.  Progress has been made, however, there is still work to be done.
     On behalf the Kansas Put the Brakes of Fatalities Day Committee, I want to thank each person who wrote a safety blog for the 2013 series as well as to everyone who has read them and shared them with others. We’ve heard from people across Kansas who have told us about many personal experiences - from their lives being saved by seat belts to losing loved ones and dealing with terrible crashes.
     Since we began this program, many states have participated in activities as part of the Put the Brakes on Fatalities Day campaign.  It is important that safety messages are being spread across the country. Bottom line – we want you to be safe where ever you travel.
     When I first promoted this safety campaign 12 years ago, the idea was to have a day without fatalities across the U.S.  While I know that’s an ambitious dream, I think it’s one to keep working towards so that one by one, we put the brakes on fatalities.

Larry Emig initiated the national Put the Brakes on Fatalities Day safety campaign in 2001. Larry was the Chief of the Bureau of Local Project and retired from the Kansas Department of Transportation in 2006 and is still very active in finding ways to improve traffic safety.

Too many fatalities like this

By Russell L Berry
     This is a story about my first Friday as the School Resource Officer at Shawnee Heights High School in September of 2000.  After school, I went home to prepare for working the evening football game.  As I was returning to the school early that evening, I received a call from dispatch advising that there was a fatality wreck at SE 53rd and Paulen Road.
     I was the first officer on the scene and noticed that the victim was a young man that appeared to be a high school student.  After checking the license plate on the car, I determined that he was a Shawnee Heights High School student and also determined that his mother was a teacher at the high school. It was determined that he was on his way to the school to perform at the football game as a member of the marching band.  The victim was running late to the performance so instead of taking his normal route to school on SE 45th Street, he instead chose SE 53rd Street, which has lighter traffic that would in turn allow him to travel faster. 
     Upon investigating the accident it was determined that he was traveling between 70 and 75 mph in a 40 mph zone when he lost control of the car and crossed over the other lane of traffic.  The student entered the ditch on the opposite side of the road, broke through a fence and went approximately 75 yards into a field where he hit a tree head on.  The victim was not wearing a seat belt.  After investigating the accident, another officer and the Police Chaplin went to the mother’s home to notify her of the accident and her son’s death. 
     Not only was this a tragedy for the victim’s family, but the students and staff at the school were greatly affected.  This accident was especially difficult because not only did the kids lose a fellow student but a much loved teacher lost her child.  After this kind of tragedy the following weeks at the school are met with an eerie silence in the halls.  Extra counselors are brought in, students congregate in quiet groups and many tears are shed. 
     Unfortunately in my 28 years with the Sheriff’s office, 12 of those years as a School Resource Officer, and my two years as Chief of Police for Washburn Rural School District, I have worked too many fatality accidents like this.  This accident could have been avoided had the victim not been traveling at such an excessive rate of speed, especially on an unfamiliar road, and distracted by being late and rushing to get where he needed to be.  It is unfortunate that too many teenagers believe that they are invincible and do not pay attention to speed limits.

Russell L Berry is the Chief of Police for USD 437 – Auburn Washburn School District in Topeka

His Final Call

By Danielle Marten
     Move over – it’s Kansas law.  We have all heard this message through public service announcements and we recognize it to mean we should slow down and move over for flashing lights.  The purpose of this law is to give police and other emergency personnel enough room to work while they are on the side of the road.  What happens when someone doesn’t move over and slow down?  Unfortunately, my family knows this answer too well.

This four-minute video was created for a traffic safety event this spring - go to  (then under Available Podcasts, click on His Final Call - Danielle Marten's Story) - or you can read below to see how my family suffered and the lasting impact when a driver chose to not “move over” on a cold winter night, three decades ago. 

     In January of 1982, my parents were celebrating the happiest time of their lives.  After years of trying to have a child, my mother was 5 months pregnant with me.  My father, a Wichita Police Officer, had put in for a shift transfer from the midnight shift to the day shift in order to spend more time with his wife and soon-to-be first child.  His request had been granted and he was just days away from the transfer when he got a call one evening to respond to a disturbance at a local bar.  Little did my father know this call would be his final call.
     As my father arrived at the bar, a vehicle quickly backed into the street from the bar parking lot and he stopped the vehicle to question the occupants and/or make an arrest.  Another vehicle, traveling at a high rate of speed, struck my father as he was standing on the side of the road.  He was killed instantly.  The happiest time of my parent’s lives quickly turned into the most tragic time of my mother’s life. 
     The fact that one vehicle did not slow down or pull over for those flashing lights has had a lifelong impact on my family.  My mother raised a child on her own, I didn’t get the chance to know my father and my father was robbed of his dream of parenthood.
     Please, move over when you see flashing lights on the side of the road.  Slow down and keep your eyes on the road as well.  Your vehicle tends to drift in the direction you are looking so please do not gawk at the scene.  Please remember that police and other emergency personnel that are working on the side of the road have families that would like them to return home safe.  Please make a conscience decision to protect those who are out day and night protecting you.

Danielle Marten is a Traffic Safety Consultant with the Kansas Department of Transportation

A Parent's Perspective

By Governor Sam Brownback
     In my time in elected office, I have welcomed the responsibilities incumbent on me as the Governor and, prior to that, as a Congressman and Senator serving the citizens of Kansas.  This great privilege has also been a great source of joy.
     As a husband and father of five, I understand there is no greater responsibility, and no greater joy, than family.  My two youngest children, now 15, are just beginning to drive.  It’s a rite of passage experienced by every family as they watch their “babies” climb behind the wheel of a car and head out the driveway on their way to school.
     My job as a parent is to keep my children safe. My wife and I taught all our children to be cautious and pay attention to their surroundings.  We have taught them the importance of focusing on the task at hand and doing it to the best of their abilities. Like all parents, we have worked hard to teach them the skills they need to succeed in everything they do.
     Now that Mark and Jenna are driving, we talk about focus in a different way.  Remaining focused while driving means not giving in to distractions.  Those distractions can take many forms – talking friends in the car while you drive, playing with the radio, noticing other cars or drivers, and of course the thing that distracts so many of us, our cell phones.
     It takes discipline not to pick up your cell phone for the latest text or to see who might be calling. It takes discipline not to take your eyes off the road to chat with friends riding in the back seat. A few seconds of distracted driving can have disastrous results.
     As a father, and like fathers everywhere, every time my kids get on the road I remind them to put down the phone and drive. 

Sam Brownback is the 46th governor of Kansas

Devastating consequences

     The chances of having a crash are 23 times greater if you are texting while driving. Nearly 40 percent of all American teens polled say they have been in a car when the driver used a cell phone in a way that put them in danger. Sending or receiving a text message takes a driver’s eyes from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds – that’s like driving the length of a football field at 55 mph completely blind.
     These statistics on driving while texting are scary, and the danger and loss of lives are very real.
     To help illustrate the devastating consequences of texting while driving, first responders, friends and family share emotional stories during this eight-minute documentary created by AT&T called “Don’t Text While Driving.” In addition, a young man who was a passenger in a car with a driver texting while driving tells how his life been turned upside down.  

     Please watch this video at

Even buses have accidents

By Shayna McCall
     I was an eighth grader in middle school and I caught the bus one day after school to go to my grandmother’s house. I was really excited for the long ride ahead of because a few of my friends were riding with me.
     A few seconds later, the bus wrecked into a cemetery gate. I slammed forward and my knee smashed into the metal pole. I was really scared and in shock. The driver must have fallen asleep or something. I was in so much pain that I couldn't walk. They evacuated the bus and my friend had to carry me all the way home. It was so sweet and nice.
     This affected me because my knee was hurt badly and I had to wear a knee brace for a while. I still have to every now and then. I am constantly having really awful pains. The importance of safety is entirely needed. It is always a great thing to make sure that you’re in the best care possible.
     Traffic safety is a priority in today's society that we need to fully be aware of. That way we know how to combat things that may in turn harm our safety.

Shayna McCall is a student at Highland Park High School in Topeka

A split second

By Denise Petet
     Saturday, May 26, 2012, I was sitting at home, waiting for my mom to get home from church so we could go to dinner. And then the phone rings and it was a stranger…calling on my mom’s cell phone. She proceeded to tell me that my mom had been in a bike wreck and that AMR was taking her to the hospital. She also said she’d meet me there to give me my mom’s stuff and that they were keeping her bicycle in their back yard until we could come and get it.
     Not surprisingly, I dashed out the door and hurried to the hospital. I met these strangers who gave me my mom’s possessions and then went back to the treatment room, all the time thinking that I was going to see someone frustrated with being transported and generally being a ‘bad patient’…after all, my mom is an RN and everyone knows that nurses and doctors make the worst patients.
     If only it had been that.
     What I saw was my mother, who had always been so strong and self-reliant, lying on a gurney, surrounded by medical personnel.  Right as I got there they took her away for a head CT and she came back in just a few minutes.
     When she was brought back into the room, she didn’t recognize me. She was confused and disoriented. Then the doctor gets the results back and tells me that it was a subdural hematoma and that they’d need to operate immediately.
     About an hour after I got the phone call, we were practically jogging down the hall as I followed the tech getting her to the OR.
     The next time I saw her was in the ICU. Half her head had been shaved and a bandage covered the wound. She had a large incision on her skull and it took 28 surgical staples to close the wound.
     It was Monday morning before she was moved from the ICU to a normal room. Then Wednesday she was transferred to a rehab hospital. Three weeks later she was able to come home, and it was three weeks of little victories. Managing the pain, getting out of bed, proving she could take care of herself like she had before. It was months before she could go back to work and get on her beloved bicycle again. Over a year later, she still deals with minor issues from the wreck.
     All in all, she, and we, were very lucky. She still doesn’t and likely never will remember those few days after the accident.  In fact, the main way we know what happened comes from others. She was bicycling home from church and going down a side street. A lady that was going to a party opened her car door in front of my mom. Natural instinct is to avoid an object and she fell - breaking her collarbone and getting a contrecoup concussion that led to the brain bleed that resulted in the craniotomy procedure that had to be done to save her life.
     Nothing malicious or mean. Nothing deliberate or cruel. Just a person that wasn’t paying attention for the split second it took her to open a car door.  A split second that our family has spent the last year recovering from. A split second that will be part of our lives forever.
     A split second.

Denise Petet is a Media Technician for the Kansas Department of Transportation

Prevention is the best medicine

By Brooke Shumaker
     As a nurse in Emergency Department and the Safe Kids Shawnee County Coalition Coordinator, I am driven to do my part in educating parents and children on the importance of being properly restrained while in a motorized vehicle.  During my emergency nursing career over the past 8 years I have seen things that no one can prepare themselves for and helped families deal with their worst fears.
     Seeing the aftermath of a motor vehicle accident and the sadness of those who survived is very heartbreaking and also frustrating.  There are several situations in which reckless driving in combination with no seat belt has led to an unnecessary death.  I can’t stress to patients enough that seatbelts can be the best protection a person has against other drivers.  Wearing your seatbelt is one of the easiest decisions a person can make and is one that can have the most impact. 
     As a nurse in the Emergency Department I find it my duty to continuously educate my patients on the importance of making safe decisions.  Even though I teach patients daily the importance of making healthy decision, I also feel by the time I reach them they have already experienced a tragic event.  
     As the Safe Kids Coalition Coordinator I am now able to promote injury prevention and health promotion outside of the hospital before incidents occur.  I work to partner with local organizations to put on activities throughout the community that promote making safe decisions and living healthy lifestyles.  Some of the activities and initiatives Safe Kids focuses on surrounding motor vehicles are Child Passenger Safety, Buckle Up programs, In and Around Car Safety, Hyperthermia in Cars, and Spot the Tot. 
     Through being a part of Safe Kids I have learned that you not only have to target your efforts towards the children, but also the parents and adults who are their role models.  I always find it interesting to see adults not wearing their seatbelts but their children are.  Parents can also make bad decisions for children by encouraging unsafe practices.  I feel it is the responsibility of the adults and parents to be the role model for the child and instill healthy lifestyles that prevent injuries. 
     To fully promote healthy decisions and lifestyles it takes the teamwork of various key stakeholders throughout the community and resources.  For more information on how you can do your part to keep Kids Safe or events going on in your area visit
     Safety tips to remember:
·         Every person on every ride must use a car seat, booster seat or safety belt that’s right for his or her weight and height
·         All children under age 13 should ride in a back seat
·         Know where the airbags are in your vehicles and whether they can be turned off
·         Don’t share safety belts
·         Never use car seats purchased from yard sales, secondhand stores, or flea markets
·         Weigh and measure your children regularly to ensure they are using the correct safety device.
·         Never let children ride on laps, in cargo areas, or truck beds.
                                         (Safe Kids Worldwide)

Brooke Shumaker RN, BSN, MSN, CNL-C, is a Clinical Nurse Leader in the Emergency Department & Trauma Services for Stormont-Vail HealthCare and also the Safe Kids Shawnee County Coalition Coordinator

Things we should have shared

By Eileen Hawley
     In May of 1973 my future seemed bright.  I was weeks away from graduating high school.  I was thinking about college. On Saturday, May 19, I would wake up early to march in the annual Armed Forces Day Parade with my friends in the West High Band.  A single phone call in the early morning hours of that day changed my life in ways that even 40 years later, resonate deeply.
     The phone call was from the hospital telling my parents that their daughter, my older sister, had been in a car accident and they should get to the hospital as quickly as possible. My sister, Barbara Jo Keegan, was dead at 20 years old. 
     That night the decision by two teenagers to get drunk and get behind the wheel of a car, had deadly consequences.  Their car slammed into the one in which my sister was riding, killing her instantly.  
     The days, weeks and months following Barbara’s death remain a blur for me.   What does remain in the years that have followed – and there have been many – are the memories Barbara and I never made.  There are things we should have shared as sisters: she should have been there to stand with me when I got married, but she was not; she should have had children on whom I could dote, but she did not; she should have been there to share the grief when our parents died, but she was not.   
     For most of my life, people act surprised when I mention my sister.
     It’s not that they simply didn’t know Barbara. It’s that people I have known and loved for decades don’t know that she even existed.  For as long as these friends have known me…there has been only me. 
     On rare occasions, someone who knew Barbara finds me on Facebook and I am hopeful we will become friends.  We correspond for a while, but the truth is that they are seeking to rediscover Barbara much as I have been most of my life. They are looking for the little sister they remember. And that child is gone, replaced with an adult they don’t know.  The thing that connected us – my sister – is gone.  
     When we’re young, we think of ourselves as immortal. We fail to think about the consequences of our actions, just as I’m sure that two boys who set out for a night of fun never thought for a moment they would end the life of one person and change forever the lives of all those who loved her.

Eileen Hawley is the Communications Director for Governor Sam Brownback.

Arriving safely is not always simple

By Bill Knight
     Most every driver has had it happen at one time or another…something… a sound or a flash…catches your attention, and you look into your rear view mirror to find an emergency vehicle rapidly approaching from behind.  It could be an ambulance, fire truck, or a police car.  As a driver, it’s time for you to make a split second decision. 
     The law requires you to move to the right and allow the emergency vehicle to pass.  In theory—it sounds simple.  In practice, especially in rural America, it’s not always that easy.  Narrow roadways, often with unimproved or no shoulders, sandy and rutted rural roads, and traffic across multiple lanes of large divided roadways, all making the same split-second decision you are trying to make can be challenging and dangerous.
     Consider for a moment the view from that responding emergency vehicle.  In the case of a fire department, our vehicles are most all very large, very heavy and not extremely maneuverable.  The trucks carry hundreds, if not thousands of gallons of water, rescue tools, hundreds of feet of hose, couplers, nozzles, and a large pump—not to mention the firefighters on board.  What is an easy stop for you in a passenger car can take a hundred feet or so in a fire truck.
     In my time responding to an emergency in a fire truck I have seen some extremely close calls.  One of the most common problems we encounter is panic.  The driver simply has no idea what to do.  Some immediately hit their brakes…stopping directly in front of the on-coming apparatus.  Some make an attempt to pull to the right, however, fail to move their vehicle off of the roadway enough to allow the emergency vehicle to pass.  Some just slow down and continue moving in the traffic lane.  By far the most dangerous are those that attempt to make a left turn trying to “beat” the responding vehicle.
     As a first responder, I can attest to the fact that getting to the scene of most emergency calls is much, much more dangerous than what greets us when we arrive on the scene.  National statistics confirm this.  More firefighters are killed or injured responding to emergency calls than are injured or die on the scene of emergency calls.
     In the defense of most drivers, cars today are extremely well made and designed to keep traffic and road noise to a minimum.  This, in turn, makes it very hard to hear the sirens of on-coming emergency vehicles.  There are more distractions today than ever before while behind the wheel.  Cell phones, entertainment centers, and GPS devices are all common and draw your eyes from the road and mirrors to operate.
     So…what can be done?  Basically, be aware.  If you frequent areas around hospitals, fire and police stations, be aware that the chance of encountering an emergency vehicle in these areas is much greater than on a lonely rural roadway.  Keep radios and other music device volumes at a reasonable level.  Never text and drive.  Limit cell phone conversations and use hands free devices.  Be aware of your surroundings.  Always have a way out of your lane of traffic. 
     From the perspective of the driver of an emergency vehicle attempting to overtake you…it goes back to a basic rule learned in Drivers Ed.  Signal your intentions.  When you see an emergency vehicle in your mirror…signal a lane change to the right then make the change after checking for traffic or when you can safely do so.  If possible, come to a complete stop.  Use your emergency flashers.  This alerts traffic around you that you are stopped.  Most importantly it signals to the driver of the emergency vehicle that you realize he is there and that you are yielding to allow him to pass.  Personally, I really like it when a vehicle yields and uses their flashers…just for that reason.
     Safety is a two way street.  As drivers we all have a responsibility to be aware and prepared and to act quickly and safely when presented with an emergency vehicle nearby.  As first responders, drivers of emergency vehicles have the responsibility to respond in a safe, effective and courteous manner.  My fire department, as well as most, has a series of protocols or operating guidelines for responding to an emergency.  An old adage among first responders is: “red lights and sirens do not give you the right of way…they are merely asking for permission to proceed.” 
     Among a long list of rules; our department requires a complete stop at red lights and stop signs, no more than 10 mph over posted speed limits (In most areas) no red lights or siren in school zones, and requires any driver responding in an emergency manner to be trained (yearly) in proper and safe techniques.  Any Police Chief, EMS Director or Fire Chief would appreciate you notifying them if you see a vehicle operated in an unsafe manner.  Please note a vehicle number, location and day/date/and time.
     Emergencies happen. Time is important. Safety is more important. To be effective, emergency responders often have to arrive quickly…but most importantly…they have to arrive.

Bill Knight is the Fire Chief of the Holcomb Community Fire Department

Very close call

By Jonathan McClung
     Not many days go by that we don’t pass a highway maintenance vehicle on the side of the road where people are working. But yet many drivers don’t give enough attention to make it a priority to give the courtesy of slowing down and moving over. Recently I had an encounter of what can happen in such an instance.
     Wednesday, July 10, started out like any normal day for me. I arrived at work that morning ready for another day of the usual summer activities at KDOT. After instruction on where I was to mow, I prepared my tractor and mowing deck for the day ahead of me. All fueled up, greased and ready to go, I headed out to the location I was to start. When I arrived, I went ahead and started mowing the median just east of mile marker 19 on I-70 headed east. About four miles into my day of mowing, it happened.
     A large bang and the windows of my tractor were coming in on me. When the glass stopped flying, I looked back to see my mowing deck was detached and setting on the ground 10 yards behind my tractor. I then looked forward and as the dust settled, there in front of me was a SUV lying upside down on its roof. It wasn’t until this point that I realized that I had been hit by a vehicle traveling highway speeds. It happened so fast.
      The two passengers in the SUV were airlifted to Denver, Colorado, for treatment from injuries and I received five stiches for a cut to the back of my arm. But it could have been worse. Looking at the tractor the next day, I realize that a few inches could have created a different outcome. Talking to the State Troopers afterward, we came to the conclusion that the seat belts saved all three of our lives. The SUV’s passengers and I were restrained into our vehicles, keeping us from being ejected.
     I don’t know if I will ever know the reason that vehicle left the roadway that day, but I will never forget it. If I can get one person that reads this to think twice about slowing down and moving over for highway maintenance vehicles, emergency vehicles, or even just vehicles parked on the side of the road, then this is worth writing because the life you could save may be your own.

Jonathan McClung is an Equipment Operator for the Kansas Department of Transportation in Goodland

Be defensive at all times

By Mike Bright
     I would like to talk about motorcycle safety. I carry no particular credentials in this area other than 44 years of riding. For as long as I have been riding, the motorist who “didn’t see him” seems to be the most dangerous hazard to a motorcyclist. I personally have had a number of near miss incidents involving this situation. For me – it is a part of riding that I accepted many years ago.
     What frightened me the most was on a dark rainy night in Kansas City. My wife, who rides her own bike, was following me in traffic. It was dark but her bike has a unique headlight than I can pick out in the mirror amongst the other lights on the road. As I did my customary scan of my gauges, traffic ahead, side-to-side glances and a check of my mirrors she was suddenly gone. I began to slow and working to determine what had happened to her. I began to work my way to the shoulder of the road to get pulled over. I finally got to a safe location to pull off and began to scan the traffic.
      Did we just get separated or did she go down? Finally, after what seemed like an eternity she emerged from the traffic and we spotted each other. Once we got back together she related to me, an SUV changed lanes. The problem was, the SUV was moving into the space she was occupying. Literally moving over on top of her position!
     Because she is a good defensive driving she was able to take evasive action and kept from being run down. She was okay. For me, for a few frantic moments I thought I had lost my wife to an errant motorist who simply “didn’t see the motorcycle.” They would have felt bad and certainly didn’t intend to harm anyone but it would not have changed the simple fact that my wife could have been seriously injured or worse.
     As a result of that event we plan our trips through most metro areas during off-peak traffic periods and if at all possible we avoid the metro area completely. The other thing we have done is adopt a more conspicuous approach to riding. Much of today’s riding apparel has reflective stripping built into it. We wear the gear! We have added some additional lighting to the bikes. In this situation she was doing everything right but could have still been hurt. It is incumbent on the rider to secure their own safety. A lot of times it feels like the other motorists really don’t care about us!
     A motorcyclist today MUST be on the defensive at all times. Wear the protective gear that enhances conspicuity. Take a rider safety training class. Be physically and mentally fit to ride. What might be a simple fender bender for a car will be a trip to the hospital for us – at the least, a trip to the morgue at the worst!

Mike Bright is the District Four Office Coordinator for the Kansas Department of Transportation

Pandora's Box

By Hannah Furbeck
     More law enforcement officers in the United States died in traffic-related incidents than from any other single cause of death, including gunfire, for 14 of the last 15 years.  These men and women spend much of their time working to make sure the rest of us can travel safely on our nation’s roads and highways.  And although the number of drivers and passengers killed in automobile crashes has declined by 20% since 1970, the number of law enforcement officers killed on our roadways has soared by more than 25% in that same time period. (Statistics provided by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.)
     I am the wife of a police officer.  I fell in love with everything about him, including the uniform.  There are days when I wish I would have known that the uniform entails a lot of sacrifice.  Our family does not have a normal scheduled life.  We are subjected to many dinners without him, family gatherings that he can’t attend, school activities missed, and birthday parties on Tuesdays because that is his day off.  But I wouldn’t have it any other way.  He is proud of the job he does and we are proud of him.
     My husband has spent the last 23 years in law enforcement.  He has worked in almost every aspect of law enforcement from road patrol to traffic officer to now being an investigator.  As you can image, he has experienced a lot over the years.  When he talks of retirement and the things he looks forward to, there is one consistent thing he always says.  He looks forward to the day where he doesn’t have to deal with death anymore.  He says he has seen more death than a normal person should.  He has seen the devastation that families have gone through when they lose a loved one unexpectedly. 
     This man has worked horrible accidents where the images of injuries and death are forever ingrained in him.  He puts those images, thoughts, feelings and emotions in a place that I like to call “Pandora’s Box”.  I have learned over the years of our marriage that my husband shares what he needs to about his day and then bottles up what is left in Pandora’s Box.  He doesn’t do this because he does not care or does not have compassion.  He simply doesn’t want to relive the horrific images embedded in his mind.  He doesn’t want to relive having to go to a family’s house to deliver devastating news.  He says the saddest part of all of the fatality accidents he has worked is that all of them could have been prevented with the simplest of tasks, such as wearing a seatbelt or paying attention.
     My husband is one of the millions of men and women in this profession that wake up every day to put on that uniform, leave their homes to serve the citizens and honor the badge they wear.  He’s not the only law enforcement officer with a box to hide and lock away feelings and images. I’m convinced that the box comes standard with the uniform.  In essence, the families that have lost loved ones in traffic-related accidents are not the only ones who experience grief.  In some way, shape or form, the law enforcement officer mourns, too. 
     This is why I urge you to please give our emergency vehicles extra room to work on the roadways.  Pay attention and obey the traffic laws that were put in place in an attempt to keep us safe.  Please be mindful of ALL of the lives of those you would impact should you choose not to be safe on our roadways.  Be alert, be aware, be alive.

Hannah Furbeck is the Director Saline County Emergency Management. Her husband, Sean, is the Master Patrol Officer for the Salina Police Department.

A vacation turns tragic

By Dennis A. Shoemaker
     It has been 16 months and 13 days since I worked the most devastating and horrific multiple fatality accident of my career.  As I sit at my desk typing this story, I don’t have to refer to my notes because the memories of that Sunday morning on April 1, 2012, at 0858 hours will be with me and many others who were involved and arrived to help with that tragic scene for the rest of our lives.
     I remember the call from the Kansas Highway Patrol Central Dispatch that morning, and the details of what had happened in the accident were unclear.  This can be very typical when something of this severity occurs due to multiple people calling in and reporting the accident. Dispatch informed me there were multiple victims involved in the accident and the Sheriff’s Department was requesting assistance from the Kansas Highway Patrol. I was 30 miles from the reported scene so my response would take some time even with responding emergency lights and siren.
     As I was responding to the accident scene, dispatch continued to give updated information as to the specifics of the accident.  I was 15 miles from the accident scene when I started observing multiple ambulances traveling northbound on the interstate lanes across from me.  I recall thinking, “are all of those ambulances from the accident I’m responding too?”  I counted five ambulances going by me and I assumed all of them were heading towards area hospitals.  The sky that morning had a low ceiling which wouldn’t allow medical response helicopters to fly and assist with victim transport. 
     I arrived at the scene and observed multiple emergency response vehicles parked along the side of the highway. I had to park 200 yards from the scene and I grabbed the equipment I knew I would need. I contacted a Sheriff’s Deputy who I remember was holding a yellow notepad and I asked him what we had.  The look on that young man’s eyes - I will never forget.  He told me he really didn’t know but there were victims everywhere.  I asked him what he was doing and he said, “I’m trying to document all of the victims as they are brought up from the scene and readied for transport.”  I told him good job and to stay with it until he had identified everyone and we had an idea of how many victims were actually involved.  This young Sheriff Deputy’s work that day was invaluable and assisted me with this investigation beyond what I can commend. I found out later this was his first major accident to work and he had only been in law enforcement for a short time.  I often think about him and hope he was able to deal with this tragic event for him being so new to his chosen career. 
     I left the young Deputy’s side and started examining the horrific scene, and what I observed will never leave my mind.  There were multiple victims lying in the area of this deep ravine that had a creek running through it.  I remember looking at what I believed to be the vehicle, and it looked like an improvised explosive device had struck it. The main living quarters on this recreational vehicle was totally destroyed and nothing except a small couch remained on the bed of the vehicle.  Some of the victims were children, which always makes it a very tough scene to deal with and work through.  I remember talking to one victim who was a young teenage boy and he told me his little brother hadn’t made it, but he was going to try and help the rest of his family.  This boy, who was called upon that day to deal with things most young men don’t, was a hero to me and I will never forget him for what he dealt with and assisted me with that tragic day. 
     The extent of this fatality accident on April 1, 2012, goes beyond one’s normal comprehension of a tragedy.  The accident resulted in the loss of five human beings - three which were children and four of them were from the same family, and all were related.  I have delivered several death notifications in my 24-year career, but never have I had to tell a surviving mother she has lost four children and one daughter-in-law.  I recall the statement this mother asked me when I first looked at her in the hospital.  The mother herself had life threatening injuries when she was transported from the scene and she was in stable condition when I spoke with her.  She looked at me as I walked in the room and while starting to cry asked me, “how many of my babies didn’t make it?” 
     I have shed numerous tears with total strangers in my career and this is coming from a State Trooper who spent 20 years in tactical operations.  I have always tried to find a positive in every tragic event I come in contact with so when I visit with the families I can give them hope and something good to think about when their minds are so filled with sorrow and sadness.  On that day, I told the mother, “no one should have survived this horrific wreck but for some reason thirteen victims are still alive.” I hugged her and tried to comfort this total stranger for several minutes while trying to comprehend how she was going to deal with such great loss.  Several of the surviving victims were her children and close friends so I told her she needed to get better for them.  I found out later the husband and father to this family had passed away a short time back, and the family was still dealing with it, and now this accident entered all of their lives. 
     This accident involved a truck, which was considered a recreational vehicle, and it had living quarters in it and the truck was pulling a toy hauler trailer. The family was returning from an annual vacation trip which they have taken for several years to see friends and ride their four wheelers and motorcycles.  A driving error that day resulted in a catastrophic accident which will remain with me and all of those who were involved most likely forever. That is why it is so important to remember a simple distraction inside a moving vehicle can produce a horrific accident scene which can cause the loss of precious human life. 
     I know for a fact all of us reading this article most likely can see or remember things we have done inside our vehicles while driving which took our attention away from the most important thing at that time, the operation of a motor vehicle.  Please remember to take responsibility and drive with focus and care for those inside your vehicle and those away from your vehicle. 
     Since this accident, I have kept in touch with the families and especially with the mother and young teenage boy who had to be a young man that day.  It has definitely helped me with my emotions and stress from that horrific day, and I believe it has helped the families in some way or another.  I have often spoken with others and stated I can only hope my family would be able to work through the emotions and adversities that I know the families of this horrific accident have endured and encountered.  I can say there is a special place in my heart for the families of this unforgettable day and I will remember all of you until the day I perish. 

Dennis A. Shoemaker is a Master Trooper with the Kansas Highway Patrol

Defensive Driving (aka Listening to Your Mother)

By David Howard
     I’m a paver -- I’ve been working for a contractor on highway construction projects for better than 25 years now.   Over these years I have travelled hundreds of thousands of miles of roads in the Midwest.   I have participated in several driver training courses and been a party to promoting safe driving skills in conjunction with industry-sponsored events such as this Put the Brakes on Fatalities Day with the Kansas Department of Transportation.   Through all of this, it is the words of my mother that I hear virtually every time I put my vehicle into motion, “Be a defensive driver.”   Simple is almost always better than complicated, and this simple advice has not only stayed with me throughout my driving years, but has grown in value to me…my daughter is off to college and my twin boys will get their driving permits by year end.
     My mother raised her sons by trusting us to do the right thing, she would say this, “I trust you.”   It worked; I repeat this with my children.   But, when I was young, a young driver, I tested this trust, her trust in me to be defensive about my driving, my safety.   For her, no problem, no hurdle, could not be solved working together, except one of her sons getting severely injured or worse, and accidents tend to happen on our highways, my mother knew this, we all know this.   I was fortunate, maybe blessed, or perhaps her words were with me even if I no longer recall them being prominent in my teenage brain in those early days of driving.   I had fender-benders, but I never even saw a bad accident once I began driving.   But, it was not long after going to work on the highway that I saw up close what can happen, how quickly a mother can lose a child.
     One minute I was visiting with a surveyor in my pickup truck on an I-35 construction project near Guthrie, Oklahoma, and the next I was helping as best I could with the survivors of a head-on collision.   Six teenagers, kids, in a car wreck, including two sets of brothers, and not all survived; mothers lost sons, a brother lost a brother.   Amid the chaos of that tragedy was the lament, whimpering, of one survivor that they had brought this on themselves, been out drinking and driving all afternoon.  
     There are as many things that can go wrong travelling down our highways as there are cars and trucks on them, but if you put yourself in a position where you cannot be defensive about your safety, a mother could lose a son or daughter.   Drinking and driving, distracted driving, an unsafe load, excessive speed – you cannot be defensive on the highway with these kinds of handicaps.   And, when a truck crosses centerline, a car pulls out from an intersection not seeing you, or a man is changing a flat tire on the shoulder just over the next hill – being a defensive driver may be the only way to save a life.
     So, to my children I echo, “I trust you to be defensive about your safety when driving or as a passenger in a car.   As long as you are safe, we can handle everything else together.”   And I repeat this, often, very often, just as my mother did.

David Howard is the President/CEO of Koss Construction Company

Impacted by a distracted driver

By Gretchen Gleue
     “I didn’t mean to. It was just an accident.”
     Parents (and grandparents) hear this phrase all too often when a child unintentionally breaks something. We sweep up the pieces or if it was a sentimental memento we may try frantically to put it back together. Sometimes we’re lucky and it looks like nothing destructive happened.
     If only it were the same with vehicles. 
     It was an early winter afternoon about 23 years ago, the kind where the gray skies and occasional mist hint that winter weather is on the way. We’d been home most of the day and realized we needed diapers before morning. We must have been restless and decided to go to the mega-grocery store so we could also check toy options for our young toddler.
     The three of us took my car, my pride and joy. I’d ordered it new as personal achievement reward. I’d researched all the safety and performance stats before deciding on this model (even studying which colors had better visibility on the road).  Anyone riding in my car had to use seat belts. I’d been buckled in since I was knee-high to a grasshopper.  The toddler was strapped in a front-facing car seat.
     As we passed the new mall, we noticed the parking lot was overflowing and traffic so bad that their security was directing traffic at the entry. We stopped at a traffic light a block later on the five-lane roadway which was experiencing rapid development. We were behind a two-door sports coupe. Then out of nowhere, our heads were jerked forward and back, accompanied by the sound of what seemed like Big Foot crushing a trash can.  I remember the toddler asking, ‘What was that?’ and that I quickly checked each of us. The sports coupe driver got out, checked his rear bumper, shouted it didn’t look like it was damaged and then left the scene.
     The same couldn’t be said from my car. I didn’t see the damage until the officers arrived. We’d stayed bundled up in the car. The officer tried to open the rear driver’s side door to get our toddler from the car seat, but the door was jammed. The driver door was also jammed.  My husband’s back was sore so they insisted he go to the hospital by ambulance.  A tow truck driver dropped my totaled car at a repair lot and then drove the toddler and me home. He couldn’t buckle in the car seat, but tried to assure me. “Lightning doesn’t strike twice.” “Nothing’s gonna hurt you in this big rig.”
     We learned the blue sedan was driven by a teenager from central Kansas who had come to town with her friend to Christmas shop. She was driving her grandpa’s car. He lived in Colby. She admitted she hadn’t noticed that we’d all stopped. She was distracted by the ‘cute guy directing traffic.’ Officials estimate she hit my car at 40 mph – the posted speed limit.
     This wasn’t the first or last time my life was impacted by a distracted driver. It has made me the parent who always reminds her kids that they may be safe drivers, but “you never know when the other driver isn’t paying attention or will use poor judgment until it’s too late.”

Gretchen Gleue is a Program Consultant in the Traffic Safety Section for the Kansas Department of Transportation

Life-saving belts

By Ginger Park
     On a rainy November afternoon my husband, John, and I were driving from Topeka to Kansas City on the Kansas Turnpike. We were driving in the center lane near Lawrence when the car hydroplaned and began to spin. Luckily the cars on both sides of us had just passed us. At one point we were facing the wrong direction, I could see all the headlights heading our direction and I thought I’d met my end.
     However, we continued to spin off the right side of the road without hitting any other cars. Our car stopped spinning and was facing the correct direction when we slid down a 30-40 foot embankment, landed at the bottom and the car tipped onto the passenger side.
     John, held by his seat belt, was hanging sideways in the driver’s seat and I was on my side in the passenger seat with my seat belt on. After taking a minute to assess that we were both unhurt, John rolled down his window and asked me to unbuckle his seat belt while he held on to the steering wheel and the edge of the window so he could climb out the driver’s window. I then unbuckled and stood on the inside of the passenger door, while he pulled me out the driver’s window.
     Our adrenaline was pumping. We were cold, wet and frazzled, but we weren’t hurt. If we hadn’t been wearing our seat belts, we would have been thrown around the car in the spin and the slide downhill, and John would have crushed me when we landed. I am thankful we walked away without any injuries.
     This incident reinforced our habit of always wearing our seat belts when we get in a car and has made us much more cautious drivers in the rain.

Ginger Park is the Communications Manager in the Bureau of Health Promotion for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment

It Takes Only a Minute to Save a Life

By Penny Otter
     It seems that time is valuable and the most lacking in American lives today.  You hear the saying “if I only had an extra hour in the day, I could get more done.”  After raising my own children and looking back at life, I realized that I lead my life the same way.  I never took the time to slow down.  We were always in a rush.  As a car seat technician and office manager for a local health department, I see numerous families throughout the day following the same footsteps.  The thing many of us forget is the safety for children in a vehicle.  There are some families who make child passenger safety a priority in their lives, but statistically they are the minority.  As a mother and a car seat technician, I would like to give advice to those who haven’t taken time for passenger safety.
     When transporting your child, NEVER have the attitude that “nothing will ever happen to me.”  An individual can be the most careful driver, but that doesn’t protect them from that one life altering time. It could be a careless driver, a drunk driver or even a good driver that made the wrong decision at the moment that caused injury or death. Treat each trip with importance, whether you are going one block or one mile.  The safety of your child and yourself is imperative.  No rush.  Your child’s life is way more important. 
     One lesson I have learned is to be a good role model. Set a good example for your children. Wear a seat belt every time and drive with care.  Your children are always watching and learning from you.  If you show that you care about their/your safety, they will grow up following the same life-saving habits. The best way to protect them in the vehicle is to put them in the correct seat and use it properly every time. Follow the car seat instructions and vehicle manual for proper installation.  Have a certified car seat technician show you how to install your seat.  It only takes a few minutes and it could possibly save your child’s life.
     As a car seat technician for over five years, I have witnessed parents who have lost their child due to improper or no installation of a car seat.  There is no way for them to turn back time.
     My only hope is that this opportunity to express to parents my experiences will save them from exposure to a permanent life altering event such as death or injury.  For more information about car seat installation and finding the nearest car seat fitting station, go to or You can also call the Kansas Traffic Safety Resource Office at 1-800-416-2522.

Penny Otter is with the Norton County Health Department

Death is final - memories are forever

By Avis Crosby
     In preparation to write for the Put the Brakes on Fatalities Day Campaign, I had to mentally take myself back to April 14, 2006.  At approximately 4:03 a.m., I received “the telephone call” that no parent wants to receive.  My son, Adrian Crosby, and my cousin, Dominique Green, along with their girlfriends went to Hutchinson to celebrate Adrian’s birthday, which was April 15.  Adrian would have been 22 years old the next day, and Dominique would have turned 22 years old in July.  However, neither Adrian nor Dominique lived to celebrate their 22nd birthdays, and our family’s lives would forever be changed.
     On the way back to Wichita, the car Adrian was driving, which happened to be my car, was hit head-on. “The driver” was driving while intoxicated and his blood alcohol level was twice the legal limit.
     Adrian was home on leave from the United States Navy.  His ship the USS Saipan (which has been decommissioned since the wreck) was scheduled to ship out on April 27, 2006.  This would have been the last leave that Adrian would have for the remainder of 2006.  Dominique was going to Dallas the next day to be a pallbearer at a friend’s funeral service. Who would have thought that a birthday celebration would have turned deadly for such promising young men? 
     Because Adrian’s ship was being decommissioned, he had opted for the early out plan, rather than being attached to another ship. The stipulation was he had to be enrolled for the spring 2007 semester.  Adrian’s plan was to attend WSU for one semester and then transfer to a school in the Dallas, Texas, area.  Dominique would have graduated with a Criminal Justice Degree in the spring 2007 semester. Sadly, all of the plans that Adrian and Dominique had made for their lives were cut short, by the decision of “The driver” to drink and drive.
      According to the Highway Patrol, “the driver” had received a telephone call from a friend to return to Hutchinson to pick him up.  The car that the friend had been riding in was being impounded at a DUI stop, and the driver was taken to jail in Hutchinson for DUI.   “The driver” turned around to go back to Hutchinson. Unfortunately, he ended up driving south in the northbound lane.  Only God knows why “The driver” hit the car that Adrian was driving.  Adrian and Dominique, according to the Hutchinson Coroner were dead before the car came to a complete stop on K-96.  I’ve always wondered what Adrian and Dominique’s last thoughts were…what pain, if any did they feel?  Did they know that death was about to consume them?  And more importantly, did “The driver” realize that he was about to hit them head on?  What were his initial thoughts when he realized that he had killed two young men?  How does this affect him seven years later?
     There have been so many family events and world events that Adrian and Dominique did not get to experience. They are loved and missed every day.  Dominque’s grandmother Mary Lyons (my first cousin) and I maintain the crosses at K-96 near Mills Road as a continuous reminder of the tragedy that happened on April 14, 2006, at approximately 2:10 a.m. 
     This tragedy did not have to happen.  Everyone who consumes alcohol has a responsibility to the public not to drink and drive. As we know, all choices have consequences, either good or bad.  Please don’t endanger the lives of others because you choose to drink and drive. 

Avis Crosby, mother of Adrian Crosby and cousin to Dominique Green, is a 4th grade teacher in Wichita