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


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


SAFE - the Reason I'm Alive Today

By Morgan Krankenberg

 Hi, my name is Morgan and I am a junior at St. John High School in Stafford County. Last summer on August 12, my life was saved because of a seat belt.
I had a passenger with me.  I was going a little too fast on a dirt road, mistake number one. I hit loose sand and slammed on the brakes, mistake number two. We started swerving and I tried to correct it, third and final mistake.
I overcorrected, and that’s when I realized it wasn’t going to turn out very good. Right before it all went wrong, I looked to make sure she had her seat belt on. After I over corrected, the car started to spin out of control, and I couldn’t do anything about it. The next thing I knew I saw a ditch and then the sky, four times.
         My door flew open and all the windows shattered besides the windshield. If I wasn’t wearing my seat belt I would have been ejected through the door or through one of the windows and most likely into the car’s path.
When it was finally over and the car stopped rolling, we sat in shock for a minute and then finally crawled out through the broken sun roof and started to panic. When we finally found my phone we called our parents and then the police. I went to the hospital and spent four hours there. I had minor injuries compared to what it could have been; I could be dead if it wasn’t for the seat belt I was wearing.
Before the SAFE (Seatbelts Are For Everyone) program, I didn’t wear my seat belt very often. When it started, I wore it more often and signed pledge cards to wear my seat belt all the time. This program is the reason I’m alive today.


I Killed Someone Today

By Tom La Combe
It’s early September, the weather is perfect, students are still buzzing around in communities on the back-to-school high, and it’s football season.  On this particularly memorable day, I was working what I thought would be a typical trip.  I am a locomotive engineer, so “typical” is sort of relative.
This day is not particularly memorable because of the perfect weather and favorable fall conditions.  It’s because I was forced to be part of someone’s death, watching it happen, powerless to stop it.  You don’t go to work thinking you’re going to kill someone today…
When it happened I was in shock.  That’s strange for me because I’m generally pretty pragmatic/stoic, whatever the right word is.  But even the most grounded and practical people can never be prepared for being forced to participate in someone else’s death.
The details of exactly what happened are not something that I talk about, except to other railroaders.  They understand it, because a good number of them have been through it.  I did tell my wife, though.  A surprisingly hard call to make, I wasn’t sure what I would say until she answered the phone.  “Well, it happened … (a long pause) I killed someone today.”
The words still ring in my ears - like someone else saying it while I sit as a casual observer.  It’s strange - at the time I was so numb when I made the call.  The hours and days afterward were anything but numb.
For two days I couldn’t sleep or eat.  Besides having to be present for the actual experience, my body’s reaction to it was also deeply troubling.  A trespasser ran in front of my train, there was no way I could have stopped in time, and the inevitable consequence happened.  Why is that so difficult?  It is against the law to be on railroad property, it is private property.
It’s so complicated.  That fatality was out of my control!  As tragic as that is for the victim, the victim is not the only one involved.  The witnesses (locomotive engineer, conductor, and others), emergency responders, law enforcement, coroner, family, and friends - also out of their control! 
Close your eyes for a few seconds and picture yourself in the cab of a train, watching a nightmare develop for an excruciating eternity, which is in reality maybe less than 10 seconds.  Then, marinate on this reality: I am the last living person this guy is going to see - ever.  I can’t even describe the look in a person’s eyes (and yes - we do get close enough to see that look) when the reality of death hits.  I will tell you that’s something that will creep a person out until their last day on earth.
In fact, someone still chases me around in my dreams because of what I think I caused.  But there’s the rub. I didn’t cause it.  Not driving around gates and not trespassing are decisions I can’t make for someone else.  Nor for the countless “close calls” that have happened since.  And every one of those takes me right back to the first fatality.
When that happens; some crew members never get back on a train, their career is over.  Some cope; some get out and talk about it.  I am in the latter class.  I volunteer with my railroad’s peer support and I volunteer with Kansas Operation Lifesaver, a not-for-profit program.  In my career I will have spoken to more than 35,000 people about railroad safety.
If what I say can sink in to even just one person, it is all worth it.  But I hope it’s more than a thousand.  You can help, so I never have to make that call again.  Stay off railroad property and never try to beat a train.  See Tracks?  Think Train!
Tom La Combe is a Locomotive Engineer with the Union Pacific Railroad and a Kansas Operation Lifesaver volunteer


Working to help you "Put the Brakes on Fatalities"

By Anthony Foxx

     As I did last year on these pages, I must begin my "Put the Brakes on Fatalities" message by thanking the folks at the Kansas DOT, who put this valuable series together every year. The combination of professional guidance and personal narratives you'll read here for the next 20 days is powerful persuasion that all of us can --and should-- work together every day to make our roads safer for all who use them.
     Last year, I wrote about the importance of individual decisions--the decision not to drink and drive, the decision to put your phone away when you're behind the wheel, the decision to keep your eye out for bicyclists and pedestrians.  And in a world where we know that more than 90 percent of all crashes are due in part to human error, there's no question that our individual choices and actions have the greatest direct impact on road safety.
     But, precisely because driver error plays such a critical role in safety, we see a host of opportunities to improve highway design and automotive technology to help drivers perform better.
     One year ago, for example, I asked our regional offices to assist local communities in every state with bicycle-pedestrian safety assessments. These assessments shine attention on the good and the bad in bike-ped networks, and help local planners identify areas that need design upgrades. We’re talking about the basics: well-connected, adequate sidewalks; well-marked roadway crossings; lighting; trees and other traffic buffers; and signage.
     Also at the design level, the Federal Highway Administration has funded a wide range of interchange reconstruction projects that reduce traffic delays even as they improve safety for people getting on and off highways.  And we've been hard at work improving safety on rural roadways, funding projects like the Three-County Road Improvements Program in Mississippi, where MDOT is using a single USDOT TIGER grant to modernize 41 miles of roads and 18 substandard bridges.
     Even something as basic as developing new pavement materials can pay significant safety dividends. For example, High-Friction Surface (HFS) treatments --part of the Federal Highway Administration's “Every Day Counts” program-- have been saving lives by making pavement less slick when it rains. One particular stretch of road in Pennsylvania was the site of 20 wet-pavement-related crashes in the decade prior to HFS treatment. Since HFS was added in 2007, there have been no crashes. Zero. And one interchange in Milwaukee has seen only 9 crashes in the three years since HFS was installed, compared with 219 in the three years prior.
     Safety improvements are also coming to our vehicles.  Connected Vehicles --vehicles that "see" and "talk" to each other-- offer a very strong possibility of eliminating a large number of crashes each year. This technology lets cars broadcast their position, speed, and other data to vehicles within a few hundred yards. Then, other cars can use that information to build a detailed picture of what’s unfolding around them and alert drivers to possible trouble before it becomes a threat to safety.
     Imagine a future where your car can see what you can't, and can warn you of a potential crash or icy roads ahead. Thanks to our Connected Vehicles research, that future is not as far off as it sounds. And we're also taking steps to make sure this safety technology makes its way into vehicles even sooner by accelerating the timetable to require vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications technologies in new cars and ensuring that our regulations encourage deployment of innovations like V2V that increase safety.
     The stories you'll be reading here in the next 20 days will make it clear that there is no substitute for safe, alert drivers.  And the innovations above can help drivers make better decisions and fewer errors.
     Your U.S. Department of Transportation is committed to infrastructure and vehicles that do their part to Put the Brakes on Fatalities.

Anthony Foxx is the United States Secretary of Transportation