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