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