Put the Brakes on Fatalities Day blog series ends


       
Today is the last day of the Put the Brakes on Fatalities Day blog series. The series began on Sept. 14 with U.S. Secretary Anthony Foxx and we greatly appreciate his national support of our statewide efforts.

Each weekday following that were blogs written by people who represented all regions of the state. If you haven’t had a chance to read them all, please do so. To everyone who participated in this safety series, thank you.

Please remember - while tomorrow, Oct. 10, is the official Put the Brakes on Fatalities Day, traffic safety is important every day of the year.

We would also like to share two videos from the Oct. 8 Put the Brakes on Fatalities Day statewide news conference that took place at the Capitol.

One focuses on the speakers who shared stories, and one focuses on activities afterwards that helped highlight safety with students attending the event.

The links are on Facebook and YouTube here and here.



 

 

You Never Know What Tomorrow Brings

By Casey Simoneau

Most law enforcement officers when asked what we enjoy about law enforcement will say that we enjoy helping people. Rarely do law enforcement officers speak about what may keep them up at night, or what situations they have encountered that are the ones that live on with them. For me, these are often the fatalities that I have been involved with and, to be more specific, the fatalities that involved the children.
No fatality is “easy” to work.  All of them are different and affect each officer differently.  However, I will say that some memories do not fade. Specifically, I can remember night, day, weather conditions and circumstances of each of the fatalities that involved children. Whether that may be a cold, wintery night or a sunny, hot summer day.  ALL fatal crashes involving children live vividly in my memory.  The one that I will speak of specifically is a rollover crash that involved a 7-year-old child who was not buckled in his seat belt.
It was a late winter night and I was at home for the evening.  I received a phone call from dispatch that I was requested to respond to a fatal crash on I-35 involving one vehicle and one person had passed away at the scene. Upon arriving, I looked at the scene and made my plan on how I was going to conduct my investigation.  I asked to see the victim and the location of the victim.   What I saw that night will never leave my memory.  In the median, a 7-year-old child was thrown from the vehicle and succumbed to his injuries from the crash.  This was one of the crashes that you had always heard about, and hoped you never had to be involved in (a crash involving a child).  I worked the crash and went back home to get some rest before the start of my next shift.
At this time in my life, my son was also 7-years-old, so this tragic incident affected me on a more personal level.  I remember getting home in the early morning hours. The first thing I did was go to my son’s room and I stood there watching him sleep soundly.  I then grabbed my son and just hugged him.  I hugged him long enough that he had woken up, and I could tell that he was wondering what was going on.  I told him that I loved him and that I would always love him.  
Why am I telling such a personal story? I want our public to realize that at any time in our lives tragedy can occur.  I was always told while growing up that you never know what tomorrow brings.  So, when I witness such tragedy, I remember that saying.  The last thing I want in my life is to leave my children wondering if I love them.  As Put the Brakes on Fatalities day approaches, I think it is important for each person in our society to reflect and realize that at any moment tragedy can impact our lives and to remember that you never know what tomorrow brings.  Therefore, hug your loved ones tight, and always make sure they know that you love them.  
Fatal crashes can be avoided, and victims of crashes can survive the crash if we all take the time to use the safety measures that we have been taught.  Our greatest future is our children and it is our responsibility as parents to make sure that we protect our children the best we can from allowing tragedy to impact their lives.  Our children learn from us, so buckle up and drive safe.  This may save the life of you or your child one day.   
  
Casey Simoneau is a Technical Trooper for the Kansas Highway Patrol

 

The Point of No Return

By Wayne Nelson

As a part-time police officer I write anywhere from 25 to 35 citations a month on a stretch of U.S. 400 in southeastern Kansas. The speed limit drops from 65 to 55 miles per hour, and ultimately to 45 mph as traffic passes through the small city of Cherokee. This stretch is currently part of a larger highway construction zone.

I have never really liked writing citations to folks who exceed the speed limit. But there is a time when lives mean more to me than issuing a $100 ticket, even though many of our citizens will experience added stress and discomfort from having to pay that ticket on top of their other bills.

I have observed many speeding violations. A high percentage of folks pulled over didn’t have a clue they were exceeding the speed limit. I have heard all the excuses, from “We were just talking,” or “I just missed the signs, Officer,” or “I just wasn’t paying attention” and so on.

This is what I have to offer drivers: When in transit and behind the wheel of your 1,000-pound projectile, always remember there is a point of no return. By the time you realize you are going to crash into the vehicle turning in front of you at the road work sign because your speed is 65 mph instead of the posted 45 mph … it’s too late. The lives of entire families will be changed within the next few seconds. This outcome could have been avoided.

The only way I sleep at night after issuing a citation is to know in my heart the person receiving it will be a little more nervous about missing the speed limit sign in the next city or work zone. He or she will be driving the appropriate speed to react, and lives may be saved.

Wayne Nelson is Superintendent at the KDOT Pittsburg Area Office. He also works part-time as a police officer for the City of Galena and is assistant police chief in Cherokee.


Don't Let Your Holidays Turn into a Nightmare


By Kitt Zillinger

December 19, 2014, a day scheduled to celebrate Christmas with my mom, sisters and stepfamily.  All dressed in our best, wine in the fridge, food in the oven, almost everyone had arrived.
Everyone except my sister Mary and her son; she was frequently late so we brushed it off… until she wouldn’t answer her phone. Call it sister intuition, but myself and other two sisters had an eerie feeling.
We rushed to leave the house and drive to find her, hoping we would meet her on the highway. Instead, we met the scene of a car accident. Ambulances, fire trucks, emergency workers and by-standers all became a blur as I saw her Jeep and the car that had hit her.
We saw my nephew, who seemed to be uninjured, and the woman who hit her loaded in the ambulance. She also appeared to have minor injuries, nothing life threatening. The emergency workers had told us everyone involved was wearing a seat belt. We gave ourselves hope and rushed to the hospital to meet her ambulance. When we arrived, the clerk simply stated, “Girls, they’re coding her.”
December 19, a day set aside to share love and joy among my family, turned into my worst nightmare. Christmas, which was a day to look forward to, was now just a day in the way of planning her funeral.
Don’t let your holidays turn into a nightmare, buckle up, put down the phone and put the brakes on fatalities.

Kitt Zillinger is from Almena and is a student at Fort Hays State University.



Ready or Not

By Teresa Taylor
I was ready.  As a teenager, I was ready for the future, for some freedom and for fun with my friends, the only people who really understood me. It was the beginning of Spring Break, and also Saint Patrick’s Day.  We were ready to celebrate with plenty of alcohol and a Volvo station wagon big enough for the group of us. 
I was not ready when my boyfriend lost control of that station wagon at highway speed, and it rolled down an embankment, ejecting all of us. When I finally regained consciousness, the severe pain from my injuries was overwhelming.  I felt so confused…I was alone in a large hospital room, I had tubes coming from all over my body and my hands were tied down. Where were my family and friends?  Terrified, miserable, and alone, I was not ready for this. Silently, I cried until I fell into another drug induced sleep.
Later, I learned that my arms had been restrained so that I wouldn’t pull at the breathing or feeding tubes coming from my mouth, the tube draining my chest cavity, or the many intravenous lines in my arms and neck, or the urethral catheter draining my bladder.  Since I was in the Intensive Care Unit, my family was only allowed to visit during specified times. 
The following days and weeks are a blur as the medical team fought to keep me alive. Pain marked the only memories that I have of that time. The physical pain was much more than I could have ever imagined, but the pain and concern I saw on the faces of my family and friends is haunting as well.  I felt so guilty; my poor choices had caused all of this pain. 
Fortunately, thanks to excellent care, I began to recover. I couldn’t even roll or scoot in bed without assistance and severe pain. I had been so eager for freedom and fun; but here I was living in complete dependence. I can tell you that several weeks of using a bedpan is no teenager’s idea of fun. 
After surgeries and weeks on bedrest, I required months of physical therapy to regain the ability to walk independently.  I yearned for my previous life.  I was isolated from my friends as I was too weak and in too much pain to spend much time with them.  The next year, I was finally able to return to school and to a more normal life, though I still had years of pain and surgeries ahead of me.
I still think often about how fortunate we are that none of us died as a result of that completely preventable crash; so many similar situations end tragically. My plea to you is this: never get behind the wheel after you’ve been drinking, and never ride with someone who has been drinking.  It is simply too risky. Always be ready for the unexpected and buckle up!

Teresa Taylor is the Trauma Prevention Coordinator/Outreach Educator at Stormont-Vail HealthCare

 

Failing to Stop


My name is Chuck Reinert. I am from Garden City. I am a 35-year wrestling official in Kansas. Over the years I have been blessed by my extended wrestling family. All the kids, coaches, and fellow officials become really close over the years. 
On May 30th in Grant County, Kansas, I lost a member of that wrestling family. Earl Segar, one of the triplet Segar brothers from Ulysses, and his wife Charla both died in a car accident.  A semi-truck failed to stop at an intersection in rural Grant County just a few miles outside Ulysses.
I grew up in Colorado and my Pueblo South Colorado high school came to the Garden City wrestling tourney. I met Earl then and we later became friends and family as he coached the Ulysses team and I officiated. I have spent 30 years as an official at the Ulysses wrestling tourney. Earl and I spent many Saturdays together building the character of our youth and building our wrestling family.
There are so many things we take for granted each and every day. Out in western Kansas we tend to drive the same route to school or work almost every day. We get a false sense of security sometimes and forget to do the right thing. To stop our vehicle when we should, then look both ways every time before we pull out on any road. It is never faster to skip the basic safety steps to get somewhere faster when we are in a big hurry. You never know when failing to stop will cause the accident that changes lives and cost a family a life forever.
Chuck Reinert is a wrestling official and the Director of Maintenance for Garden City Recreation                                                                                                                                      

Never Take a Day Off from Safety


Hi, my name is Don Logan. I've been a professional driver for 29 years.  I have 2.5 million safe driving miles. I had always considered myself a safe driver, but about 15 years ago I had a close call that drastically changed my driving habits.
One evening, I was traveling north on Kansas Highway 4, north of Topeka, with a set of doubles. It was dusk and it was the time of the evening that the headlights had not fully taken effect. I came upon a single taillight and what I thought might have been a motorcycle. It was, in fact, a flatbed pickup with one right taillight, carrying a big, round bale of hay on the spear on the back of the truck. The vehicle was traveling at a very low rate of speed, so I swung out into the passing lane to overtake it. I then realized we were approaching a gravel intersection. I also saw, once I was into the passing lane, the pickup's front left turn signal! The rear left turn signal was not working.
At this point I had no other options but to continue to pass the vehicle on the left and moved as far left as possible. Fortunately, the opposing vehicle saw me as it started the left turn, out of his driver's side mirror, and swerved to the right avoiding a collision.   
I'm very thankful that no one was injured that day and that this non-event made lifelong changes to my safe driving habits. It taught me to improve my defensive driving awareness by increasing my eye lead time and anticipating dangers before they materialize. It also taught me that your environment is crucial to highway safety. Here in Kansas, we must pay particular attention in rural areas to agricultural equipment. Farming is our leading source of business in Kansas and we must be prepared to share the road.
       I encourage every driver to be vigilant in their safe driving habits, to learn from their experiences, and to never take a day off from safety.

Don Logan is from Eskridge and is America’s Road Team Captain with the American Trucking Associations

A Moment of Reflection


By John Merchant

Since becoming Sheriff of Brown County over 7 years ago, there have been many times I have wondered why things work out like they do, some good and some not so good.  There seems to be no explanation for the outcome of certain events.  Nevertheless, these experiences stay with you for the rest of your life.
There are many instances where just one simple error can be life changing.
I can vividly remember many accident scenes where people should have walked away and instead, were killed.  One in particular happened a few years ago:
A teenage girl, recently graduated from high school, was a very responsible young lady.  She was steadily employed at a very good job. You could just tell by the way she carried herself that she was going to make something out of her life.  She was a very thoughtful and caring individual who always had time or a kind word for others.  I received a call one night of a possible 10-40 accident (fatality).  When I arrived, I noticed a vehicle on its top, by all indications there was not much in the way of skid marks which told me the vehicle was not traveling at a very fast speed. By all appearances it seemed a very survivable accident.
What I later learned was the young lady was driving home after work, came to an intersection in the country---a road she had driven on many times in her life---overcorrected, which sent the car over on its top. She exited through the sun roof of the car and was dragged a number of feet. She wasn't texting or talking on her cell phone, nor had she been drinking-- she had made one little error by not wearing her seat belt and she paid the ultimate price.  Who knew this could or would ever happen, but it does.  Many people were and still are devastated by her early passing. I know she was the kind of person who would not want this to happen to others.
Another recollection is the night I arrived at an accident scene where an SUV was travelling at a high rate of speed and went off the roadway and struck a tree head on--totaling the vehicle.   The driver was not wearing a seat belt and barely survived.  His wife was not wearing a seat belt and she was in the back seat and she was killed.  The passenger however was buckled up in the front seat and received minor injuries.
One very memorable moment is when I had a father come to the Sheriff’s office to personally thank me for showing him the proper way a car seat should be installed and how his child should be properly restrained in the 5-point harness of the car seat.  The car seat was in center position and in this particular vehicle, this was not an option. I explained this to the father and it was moved to the outboard position of the vehicle. The father told me the straps bothered the child and the child had kept slipping them off of his shoulders. 
I stressed the importance of how the harness should be worn and how snug they should be and stated that if he was ever in a front collision his child would be ejected and most likely not survive if he chose not to correct this problem immediately. He evidently took this to heart because he had told me some time later that he and his family were traveling out of state and someone had hit them head on.  They were all buckled up and had very minor injuries. The father had told an officer at the scene about the issues that we corrected a few months earlier and this officer happened to be a child seat tech.  The officer informed the father that had the issues not been corrected, there was a distinct possibility the child would not have survived the accident.  A very humbling experience.
These are just a few examples of how fast bad things can happen and how very little time it takes to correct these issues.  As law enforcement officers we have a golden opportunity to interact with the public and educate them on ways to keep everyone a little bit safer.  There is more to being an officer than stopping cars and arresting the bad guy. 
We all need to work together to promote community policing and educate the public (our community safety partners) on ways to keep our respected jurisdictions safe. By doing so, we create a community where people want to live and raise their families.

John D. Merchant is the Brown County Sheriff

Even One Foot Closer

By Larry Crane
On May 13, 2015, I was working in the westbound lanes of mile marker 217 (on the Kansas Turnpike) up north. We had the right lane shut down because we were milling rumble strips. I was working right inside the cones when an SUV came on my right side. It was going at least 50 mph when it struck my right hand, hard enough that it pushed in the mirror on the passenger side of the vehicle.

I’m so lucky I wasn’t more injured than I was. My hand was sprained and bruised, but fortunately, not broken. However, I was placed on restricted duty at work due to limited mobility and even had to attend physical therapy four or five times. In fact, due to some lingering pain and a tingling sensation, I will be visiting a specialist soon to look for further issues.

The vehicle that hit me? They didn’t even stop when it happened, and troopers caught the individual at mile marker 183. The driver told troopers she was afraid to stop because she knew she hit something, but not sure what it was.

It’s crazy to think that if that vehicle had been even one foot closer to me, I could have easily been killed. Please, slow down when you see workers on the road. Yes, roadwork can be an inconvenience, but we do it to make the roads better for you. We want to get home to our families after a day of work too, just like everyone else.

Larry Crane is an Assistant Highway Maintenance Foreman with the Kansas Turnpike Authority in the Bonner Springs area

Make One Smart, Safe Choice at a Time

By Rick Hildebrand

Before you get in a big hurry.

Before you are distracted by your daily schedule.

Before you go for that joy ride with your friends.

Before you choose to ignore the rules of the road…

Before you get in the driver’s seat, remember driving is a responsibility and privilege; and each time you put yourself in control of a motor vehicle you are affecting not just your own life, but the lives of countless others who share the roadways with you.
It was a cloudy, damp and cool fall day. We were on our way back from running errands in town. It was a remote gravel country road only two miles from our home. I don’t even remember the hours before the wreck. Pieces have been filled in for me, but I will never know the whole story.
The first thing I remember is coming to in an unknown cold sterile room. Any concrete memories didn’t come until a couple of months later when I was in a rehabilitation hospital located in another state. The realization of being paralyzed over 90% of my body both shocked and sobered me at the same time.
Life for me would never be the same. Life for my family would never be the same.
As I became more aware of my condition, the question was “what happened?” 
We, my wife was also in the car, were “t-boned” by two young drivers, a 16-year-boy and a 14-year-old girl.
The impact was on my (the driver’s) side of our car. Somehow I ended up in the ditch about 10 yards from our car. My wife ended up in the back seat. When she regained consciousness, she found me, barely breathing and unconscious. She managed to find her cell phone and call 911, even though at that point she had no idea what caused the wreck. Then someone came running up to her. He was young and hysterical. He was screaming, “Oh my God, is he dead, is he dead?” It was then my wife found out others were involved.
The boy told the police that he was teaching the girl how to drive. By the looks of the yield sign they broke in half before hitting us, he must have been training her for the race track. Our car skidded through a waterway and up into the field. They escaped with minor injuries. I wasn’t so lucky.
When you decide to run a yield sign, not look twice before pulling into an intersection and ignore the rules of driving, you could be altering someone’s life forever. You could be ending a life. And it might not be yours. That is a guilt you will carry for the rest of your days.
Make the choice to drive safe. Don’t drive in an altered state, don’t be foolish, and don’t drive distracted. Make one smart, safe choice at a time.

Rick Hildebrand is the art teacher for schools in USD 223 in Washington County
 

The Right Attitude is Everything

By Herman Jones

Putting the Brakes on Fatalities is a journey not just a destination.  Ironically, many people journey to a destination.  During my years as a law enforcement officer I have witnessed numerous crashes when drivers neglected precautionary measures that prevented them from reaching their physical destination.   
Many years ago, I spent one typical hot summer training as a recruit state trooper in Wichita, Kansas.  During this time a good friend, a state trooper, was involved in a horrific two-vehicle, head-on crash.  The incident took place on a local two-lane roadway.  My friend was patrolling southbound at 55 mph (the legal speed limit) in his marked state trooper vehicle.  Unfortunately, he encountered a pick-up truck traveling northbound but in the same lane.  The pick-up was attempting to pass another northbound vehicle at the crest of the hill at a speed greater than 55 mph.  My friend attempted to brake and veer to the right shoulder to avoid the crash.   Eventually the two vehicles collided and ended with one fatality.  Investigators of the crash estimated the combined impact speed of the two vehicles was no less than 110 mph. 
Opportunely, my friend survived the crash with only a scratch above his eye, a bruised shin and one overnight stay in the hospital for medical observations.  The patrol vehicle was a total loss with only the right tail light undamaged.  My friend’s survival was greatly attributed to using his seat belt conversely, the other driver lost his life as a result of driving under the influence of alcohol and not wearing his seat belt. 
I am confident this crash could have been avoided if the one driver had used good judgment by not driving under the influence.  Some drivers neglect preventive measures due to the wrong attitude. The right attitude is everything when operating a vehicle safely. 

Herman T. Jones is the Shawnee County Sheriff

 

103-Day Sentence

By Stacy Mayo
     As a sophomore in high school, I was focused on running through my speech for the upcoming junior class president elections one spring morning. My normal drive to school on April 17, 2001, ended up being anything but normal.

     Just about 2 miles from my house, I turned on to a quarter-mile stretch of dirt road. The gravel was thick and sandy and my little Ford Escort was very light. I caught a rock and it started to turn my car into the ditch. I remember my dad saying not to crank the wheel and over correct and instead just go into the ditch. Unfortunately the ditch was very steep and when my car went in, it made the car flip end-over-end and it ended up in the neighboring field, facing the opposite direction on my wheels.
     I came to after a quick black out and all of the windows in my car were blown out except the windshield and it was shattered. I looked around and there was a lot of blood from a small cut on my head, but the rest of my body seemed to be ok. After unbuckling my seat belt, I got out of the car and started walking for help. I quickly realized that if it wasn’t for my habit of buckling my seat belt, I’m just sure I would have gone through the windshield and the car would have rolled over the top of me.

     Soon I flagged down a concerned neighbor, and we waited for the ambulance. After a whirlwind of a day, I was flown via “Life Flight” life to Wichita. I woke up to discover two bars on either side of my face. I was quickly told that I had two cracked vertebrates, C1 and C2. That is the third and fourth vertebrates from the top. I was very fortunate as I could have very easily been paralyzed from the neck down. A few minutes later I adjusted to the idea of what had happened and started asking questions. I found out that they expected I would wear the halo for about 90 days to heal the cracked vertebrate.

     So, here I was a high school sophomore that was going back to school with a halo (four bars screwed into my skull). No one would notice the robot-looking girl right? Well, I’ve learned when God gives you lemons, you figure out a way to change it up and make some lemon bars, something no one will expect. My first day back at school, I made the best of my hardware and tied some balloons to campaign for a friend running for that student council election I was worried about. The entertainment continued through the hot summer with adjusting how I wore my FFA official dress, showed my pig at the spring shows and travel with friends to events.
     At the end of the 90 days, I got the news from my doctor that I wasn’t quite healed. So, I wore it another 13 days and then I was released from the apparatus and given the clean bill of health.

     The 103-day sentence was one I was lucky to have endured. Without the quick help of the neighbor who stopped, the flight crew who flew me to Wichita, the doctor that made sure I healed quickly, my family who was patient with me as I adjusted to the halo and my seat belt that held me in place, I’m not sure where I would have been. Without clicking my belt that day, I might not be here. Instead, I’m proud to say I work every day to support and promote Kansas agriculture companies and celebrate life.

Stacy Mayo is the From the Land of Kansas Director for the Kansas Department of Agriculture

Luckily they had their seat belts on

By Troy M. Thomson

I was asked to write a blog about an incident that affected me that had to do with the lack of wearing or the use of seat belts. I thought about this for a few days and tried to think of a single case that really made me stop and think how important seat belts are. But I just couldn’t pinpoint one incident, no matter how long I thought about it.
Maybe I should tell about the high school girl who rolled her vehicle on a gravel road. When I arrived, she was laying in the middle of the road on her back after being ejected out of a window during the crash. I ran over to her and bent down, and saw she was crying. She reached up and rubbed my cheek and called me daddy. EMS personnel treated and transported her to the hospital, however, she was later pronounced dead.
I can think of several of these stories, but there is a silver lining! There are not nearly as many fatal accidents now as there were 20 years ago. Some of this can be attributed to the safer design of our automobiles, but I feel the main reason is the increased use of seat belts by drivers and their passengers.
It is my belief that all accidents that we respond to have an impact on us. After discussing this with Undersheriff Wenzl, we realized that after almost 75% of the serious accidents we work, we always turn towards the other officer and say either, “They were lucky they were wearing their seat belts,” or “They would have stood a better chance if they had their seat belt on.”
So in conclusion, I would say that I hope that people will make that decision to put on their seat belt, because it is their decision to wear it. If that day ever comes that you are involved in an accident, we want to be able to say “Luckily they had their seat belts on.”

Troy M. Thomson is the Norton County Sheriff
 

What is the Total Cost?


By Scott Abker

I would guess that very few people understand that an accident, especially one in which the vehicle occupants are ejected because they failed to wear their seat belt, has secondary costs associated with the resulting injuries. Oh sure, we can all think about the cost for medical treatment and transport, helicopter transport, emergency room treatment, hospitalization costs, and rehabilitation costs. The additional cost of vehicle repair or replacement and/or the cost of any legal actions resulting from the accident are easy to identify too.  We can even think of the cost for final expenses if the occupant does not survive.  But, the secondary costs that I think about have very little to do with the injured party or the damaged vehicle, yet there is a very real cost that I’d like you to consider. 
Have you ever thought about what happens to the body when it’s ejected from a moving vehicle? It is oftentimes crushed by the vehicle as the ejection occurs or trapped under the vehicle. Ejected occupants are four times more likely to suffer fatal injuries than occupants who remain in the vehicle. The injuries are much more severe for occupants who remain in the vehicle but are unbelted compared to those are belted. The body bounces around inside the vehicle, striking the steering wheel, the windshield, the dashboard, other occupants or anything else. 
I’ve worked in the fire/EMS field for 31 years.  In that time I have responded to more vehicle accidents than I’d like to admit. Most of those accidents were pretty minor.  Most of them did not result in serious injuries or fatalities. However, a few did.  We rarely think of the toll that caring for those injured takes on our emergency responders or law enforcement folks.  I’ve never really considered myself as a responder who suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. Certainly, I have experienced and witnessed injuries and death over the years that have bothered me but not to the point that I felt any real distress about them. 
More and more though, probably because I am paying more attention, I have seen many of my fellow responders who have been struggling.  I’ve seen some coping in unhealthy ways. I’ve seen some leave their department early.  I’ve seen some who have tried to end their life.  And, I know at least one who did more than just try. The story that I want to share with you now is about a vehicle accident with a single occupant who was not belted in and was ejected from the vehicle. This story brought home to me the total cost.
Several years ago, my crew responded to a single vehicle rollover accident on a rural road.  It was early Sunday evening on a very nice day.  Weather was not a factor. When we arrived on the scene we found a single patient lying in the middle of the road.  The vehicle was a considerable distance from the patient and it was clear that the vehicle had rolled several times. There was a lot of debris flung out over a wide area of the roadway and in the ditch on both sides of the road.  The patient was not responsive and was barely breathing.  This patient had a critical head injury. Two members of my crew were assigned to treat this patient immediately.  The only thing was, we didn’t think that there could be only one patient. 
Before we even reached the first patient we could see that there were children’s toys and a child’s car seat flung from the rolled vehicle. When a member of the crew reached the car seat and turned it over, it was empty.  Oh how gut wrenching that feeling was.  The rest of our crew frantically searched through the debris on the road and in both ditches for a couple hundred yards without finding another patient.  Fortunately, there really was only one occupant in the vehicle, this time. 
As more help arrived, the patient was packaged for transport and my crew turned our attention to creating a landing zone for the helicopter. The critically injured patient was flown to Wichita and I’m told made a very good recovery. Seemed like a pretty happy ending but that isn’t the whole story or the total cost.  One of the youngest members of my crew had been assigned to help treat the patient. This was to be that crew member’s very first time of seeing a critical patient; the first time helping to care for a critical patient; the first time seeing a helicopter land and fly away with a critical patient. That crew member was just finishing an EMT class and was about to take the State exam. This call though, changed things. The firefighter never wanted to treat another patient. The firefighter never wanted to go to another wreck or see that kind of scene again…..
This job isn’t for everyone, yet someone has to do it.  Every day first responders, firefighters, EMT’s, Paramedics, and those in law enforcement see that type of scene.  According to KDOT’s 2013 Kansas Traffic Accident Facts, a rollover accident occurred every 2.21 hours in 2013.  In each of those accidents the chance that the occupants will remain in the vehicle is very slim if they are not buckled up. 
So what is the total cost?  You see the crew that day wasn’t part of a big city fire department.  It was a volunteer department’s crew. The crew that day was my family.  The youngest member of my crew was my youngest child. The firefighter that never wanted to treat another patient or see another wreck was my kid. That call changed how a member of my family looked at the future. My child is still a firefighter, but the EMT class was never completed.
    First responders face the worst situations on a daily basis but sometimes it gets to be too much. Sometimes, especially when they appear preventable, accidents like this really take their toll on those who respond to them. Seat belts save lives.  I have no doubt about that being a fact. They can save more than just the life of the person riding in the vehicle. 

Scott Abker is the Salina Fire Department Battalion Chief

A Victim of a Tragedy


By Samantha Gaylor
 
I opened my eyes cautiously, and confusion flooded my mind. Shortly following, the pain set in. The last time I laid in a hospital bed was when I gave birth to my daughter nearly a year prior. Although, that time, I didn't have a neck brace on or my body throbbing in pain. No one familiar was in sight, I didn't have my baby, and I didn't know what hospital I was in...
I had spent many days with my best friend Emily and her family. Her son, siblings, and parents; they were always so very welcoming. We had an eventful summer full of trips to the lake and having girls’ nights on some weekends. I didn't know our last girls’ night was going to be so dramatic and traumatic.
It started like any other time, singing loudly in the car on our way to Wichita from McPherson. Laughing, calling people, just a few girls having a good time before the weekend ended and it was time to go back to work. Emily, myself and another friend went to a club and met up with some recently acquired new friends. We had a great night, saw some familiar faces, and planned the rest of our night in town.
So much for plans... It was a dark night. It was a dark time. But the darkest part of it is my memory. I only remember going as far as a block away from where our dancing shoes stopped twirling. Emily, myself and 3 friends decided to go hang out at another friend’s house in town, but first wanted to get a bite to eat. That bite to eat lined us up directly for that drunk driver. Another couple hundred feet, clueless, and enjoying the night with my best friend; tragedy struck.
A drunk driver came upon our same intersection, ran the red light at twice the speed limit and barreled into the side of my car with no remorse. One friend remained conscious and coherent. She suffered some injuries, but was mostly internally scarred by memories. I lost consciousness and blacked out. I suffered bleeding on my brain as well as some additional injuries. Emily and our two other friends didn't necessarily suffer, but sent many others into suffering. They didn't survive. And it wasn't one of those, "Oh no! They died on impact," sad stories. It was much more brutal, violent, and stomach turning than that.
Two days later, I opened my eyes cautiously, and confusion flooded my mind. I didn't know why I was in the hospital, I didn't know I was in an accident, and I didn't know that three people died inside of my car; one of which was my best friend. I was forced into an uncomfortable position when my mom came to see me, and told me my 'bestie' was no more and that I'd have to come stay with her and my dad because I couldn't take care of my daughter, Scarlet, whose very first birthday was in a week.
Over the next year I spent a lot of time in silence, blaming myself for the carelessness of someone else's inattentive driving. I lost touch with Emily's loving family. The other survivor and I turned our separate directions in the most ugly of ways. And I managed to hurt my family emotionally, lashing out at my own distraught emotions, that they didn't have much to do with me for months. Isolation and heartbreak was enough to kill me this time; and it almost succeeded.
More recently I've been granted the serenity of being in the presence of Emily's family again, as well as my own. I cut all my other losses. And I'm still trying to get through every day as peacefully as I can. There are still many unspoken feelings and thoughts, so much heartache with every waking moment, and so many tears shed at the beautiful sight of memories made visual.
Each day feels like a chore, when before it was an opportunity awaiting. There's nothing more troubling than wishing to trade a beautiful angel’s place so others would hurt less.
 My name is Samantha. I'm told that I'm a 'victim' of a tragedy. But every time my eyes open upon my wake, I don't feel like a victim. I feel like a lost, wandering soul, questioning my own existence. And if that's not pain and suffering....

Samantha Gaylor is a volunteer at the Kansas DUI Impact Center in Wichita
 

Impactful

By Andy Fry

 
Bicyclist involved in hit-and-run on Fairlawn

Man suffers minor injuries

     Topeka police were investigating a hit-and-run involving a bicyclist Thursday evening that left a 26-year-old man shaken up with minor injuries, a police official said.
     Officer Luke Jones said the incident happened around 8:50 p.m. in front of Landon Middle School.
     The man and his mom were traveling down Fairlawn on bikes when he was clipped from behind by a black muscle car, described as a newer model Chevrolet Camaro or Dodge Charger.
     The vehicle immediately drove off. […]
     […]He was wearing highly visible clothing and a helmet, police said.
     While the tag information is unknown, it is believed the car has damages to the passenger-side headlight.
     A witness said the bike flew high into the air before being destroyed.

(Reprinted with the permission of the Topeka Capital Journal)

Impactful. That is how I would describe the incident that occurred at approximately 8:30 pm on Thursday, May 16, 2013. I wouldn’t describe it as life changing, because I was lucky and did not incur physical damages that will cause permanent pain or challenges. That is not to say I’m not changed by it though. Any sort of collision is frustrating and frightening, but it is worse to know someone in your community doesn’t care enough to stop and check on a person they’ve just hit on a bicycle and potentially killed. Being involved in a hit-and-run incident was to me the more alarming part of my accident. I understand responsibility of being involved in an auto collision is a heavy burden for some, but even heavier is the responsibility we all accept daily when getting behind the wheel of a car.
        There are obviously different ways a person can react to a story like this. Two individuals riding, completely prepared with lights, bright clothing and helmets: if they can’t ride without getting hit, then who can? Some may conclude it must be completely unsafe to ride, so why even try. Perhaps it’s optimism or perhaps it’s naivety, but I see this as an opportunity to speak up for individuals on bicycles who get hit. They should not be that looked down upon or cast out. There’s not blame due to the victim of this situation due to a lack of safety measures taken. Both myself and my riding partner were within our rights and practicing good bicycling habits. The individual driving broke the law. I definitely understand that is not the case in every car/ bicycle incident, or any collision for that matter. But that can be concluded in this situation.
           I’m not sharing this to hop on a legal soap box either. This is an opportunity to educate; through education comes understanding and interest.  Since the incident… Take note I will not say accident. We all make conscious decisions in riding and driving as to how we are going to act. The driver’s conscious decision on May 16, 2013, to accelerate rapidly and not get over a lane to pass - it was 2 lanes in our direction - caused this incident and so it wasn’t happenstance. But I digress. Since the incident, I have taken the steps to become a League of American Bicyclists Certified Instructor and have taught roughly 8-10 classes in Topeka and Lawrence. I have helped in the instruction of 16 other instructors so that others in Northeast Kansas may have the ability to learn the safe ways to ride Kansas streets and roads. I see this as an opportunity to keep more incidents like this from happening again through proactive measures that enable others to ride safely and be cognizant of how to ride in traffic, rather than disable people with fear resulting from inexperience and lack of exposure.
          In addition, there has been a team effort of citizens and government agencies in Topeka working to develop safer streets for all users to co-habitat on. With focus on creating an environment for a diverse cross section of users, Topeka is working towards a network of bikeways as well as a complete streets and complementing bicycle and pedestrian friendly ordinances.
         Riding in Topeka and Kansas is one of my favorite ways to see and re-envision my home and the communities that surround me. I hope that through sharing this story and that others will venture out to do so as well!

Andy Fry works as an Energy Engineer in Topeka for the Kansas Corporation Commission

A Sudden Realization

By Steve La Row

When I joined the Kansas Highway Patrol, I knew that the challenges ahead would test me emotionally and physically.  As I gained more experience and progressed through my law enforcement career, I was eventually asked to share my knowledge and experience by becoming a field training officer for a new recruit trooper.  I was excited to teach a new trooper how to perform his duties in a real-world environment.  Working together in a larger metropolitan area, I knew we were going to be busy.
            I spent the next several weeks instructing and observing this new trooper as we both applied our investigative skills to everything from DUI investigations, car crashes, and narcotic investigations.  Late one evening, we had just finished up making an arrest when I was told to call the Kansas Highway Patrol Dispatch Center.  We were just assigned a death notification. 
In a candid moment, any trooper will tell you that a death notification is one of the worst aspects of the job.  Showing up on someone’s doorstep late at night, with your hat in your hand, and news that will change lives forever is impossible to prepare for.  A death notification comes with an emotional toll.
I had already covered death notifications at length as part of the recruit trooper’s field training.  I had shared some of my experiences, to include things that I had done well, and things I wish I had done better.  Tonight we were going to make a death notification on behalf of the Missouri State Highway Patrol.  I told the recruit that I would handle the actual notification, but I had him collect all of the necessary information from Missouri.  When names and addresses were confirmed, we set off to make the notification.  We were going to notify a young woman that her mother and father had been killed in a crash near Branson, MO.
            It was well past sunset when we stepped up to the door.  I knocked on the door and was greeted by a gentleman.  Eventually we were invited into the residence, where all three of us stood in the living room.  A woman turned the corner into the living room carrying a small child.  At that moment my heart and stomach hit the floor.  I knew the family we were making this death notification for.  The woman who just lost both of her parents in a car crash worked with my wife at a local business.  Having a connection with her made a difficult job even harder.  Her smile quickly faded when she detected the somber mood coming from the three of us in the living room.
            We made sure that the family had all of the information they needed and helped them to decide what immediate arrangements would need to be made.  When we finished, the recruit trooper and I walked out into the street and discussed the notification process in detail.  We also discussed how knowing the family involved made things even harder.  The recruit asked how often we have to make death notifications.  My response was, too often, and it is never easy.
            It is sad to say that this story is not unique, especially for those who live and work in smaller communities.  The death notification process is repeated far too often.  Any habits or efforts that can be made to Put the Brakes on Fatalities are worth the time and effort.

Steve La Row is a Technical Trooper for the Kansas Highway Patrol