We wrapped up our eighth annual Put the Brakes on Fatalities Day blog series. Thank you so much to everyone who participated, and a special thank you to U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx for being a part of this series for the last several years.
Some of these were heartwarming stories, and some of these were stories about tragedies. But they all showed why traffic safety is so important. Every time you get in a car, in a truck, on a motorcycle, on a bike, or even walking, getting safely where you are going must be the priority.
Yesterday, Oct. 10, was the official day to celebrate Put the Brakes on Fatalities Day, but it’s important to focus on this message all year long.

As a final safety message for this series, AT&T published a video as part of its #ITCANWAIT safety campaign – very powerful – please watch and share, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E9swS1Vl6Ok

It’s bad, really bad

By Cheryl Carlson

Jordan and Bailey

On a bitterly cold morning in January 2013, I was on my way to work deep in my own thoughts about what the day would have in store for me. Little did I know that tragedy had already struck our family. My cell phone rang and my grandson, Wyatt, was calling to tell me that his sisters had just had a bad accident on their way to school. He was panicked and crying and I could barely understand what he was telling me. He said, “Grandma it’s bad, really bad.”

I drove directly to the accident site where other family members, police, ambulance and EMS had already arrived. As I approached the mangled remains of their Jeep Liberty I experienced the most intense fear I had ever known. I saw our two sons and Wyatt all standing together and crying. Our Sheriff, Greg Riat, came over to me and gave me a big hug and encouraged me not to worry, that they would get the girls out. At that point I really didn’t even know if they were alive.

They had been wearing their seat belts but they didn’t end up in them. The force of the accident must have pulled them up and out of their seats because their seat covers had also been pulled off. But hopefully that’s what kept them in the vehicle. They had both been thrown into the back storage area of the Jeep and Jordan (age 15) was wedged into that small area on top of her sister, Bailey (age 9). There was no movement as the EMS personnel and other emergency workers frantically worked to free them. The “Jaws of Life” finally succeeded in getting the roof cut through enough to get Jordan out. She wasn’t fully conscious but thankfully was alive and in a great deal of pain.

Bailey in a body shell brace

The force of the accident had pulled both of her boots from her feet. One foot was, at some point, outside the vehicle as it rolled end over end two or three times. Due to severe head trauma, Life Star was called to transport her to Stormont Vail. I can still hear that helicopter as it landed in the field near the accident and then the complete feeling of helplessness and fear as it left…and the tears I have in my eyes now as I relive that horrible day.

As the helicopter lifted off, I called Richard at the Capitol to tell him of the accident and to have him go directly to the hospital to meet the helicopter. Then our attention was focused back on Bailey who was by now, moaning and crying and trying to move. Her pain was so intense that all she could do was scream. It was freezing cold, about 9 degrees, and her new coat was cut off of her to help get her free. We had just given that coat to her for Christmas and she was not happy. Finally, after almost an hour she was placed on a board and I’ll never forget what she said. A female EMS member asked her about her pain and wanted to know if her pelvis hurt. She replied, “I don’t know what a pelvis is!” That was the only bright spot up to that moment.

She was transported to Stormont Vail by ambulance. She and her sister were in the Trauma Center for about 36 hours and then were well enough to be in the PICU. Jordan had to have surgery to repair a toe that was mangled and after about six days in the hospital was allowed to come home. Bailey had compression fractures of every bone in her back and was in excruciating pain for days. She was fitted with a neck brace and a body “shell” brace that she had to wear for about 6 weeks. After being released from the hospital she had to go to the Madonna Center in Lincoln for a short while and came home about three weeks later.

The accident happened on a gravel road when Jordan got too close to a ridge of frozen rock. It threw her across the road at which time she over compensated and shot back across. Her front axle came off. Then she hit a wall of the ditch which threw them end over end into the pasture. She, like most farm kids, learn to drive at an early age. The accident was probably due to a lack of experience of driving in general, and driving on gravel which is a totally different ball game.

Now both girls are doing just fine. Jordan has graduated from high school and is beginning studies in nursing. Bailey is now an active 8th grader who is a cheerleader. She has taken dance since the accident, loves to swim and loves to ride her horse, Renegade. We are so blessed to have them in our lives and cherish every hug we share.

Cheryl Carlson is the wife of KDOT Interim Secretary Richard Carlson


Tragedies that can’t be reversed

By John Milburn

There’s an old saying I’ve heard from veterans describing war or vacationers coming back from an exotic locale: you wouldn’t understand until you’ve been there yourself.
In a way, I have been when it comes to traffic crashes. Oh, I’ve had a few fender-benders, but nothing like what I witnessed in my previous life as a reporter in small communities in Kansas. Those opportunities afforded me access to some of the most horrific and tragic crashes one can imagine.
One of the first was in the summer of 1986 while working on my last night of an internship in Pittsburg. Regular staff members were taking their vacations so I filled in while they were gone. My summer ended on the cops and court beat. The court side was easy as there were few happenings worth reporting during that stretch. The police beat was a bit different and quite enlightening to what reporters and emergency responders face on any given call.
This particular evening a call came in over the scanner of a two-car accident near the airport northwest of town. Our photographer and I grabbed gear and headed out to what we suspected was a bad scene. And it was.
Two teens had “borrowed” mom’s car and were out driving country roads at a high rate of speed when they blew through an intersection and collided broadside with a pick-up truck. The truck was knocked into a field and heavily damaged. We could see the EMS crews working to save the young driver. And just like in the movies, sparks and smoke were coming from the vehicle, giving a sense of urgency.
Where was the other vehicle? What was left of the small car was a crumpled heap near the fence row. The two young boys were thrown from the car and lie dead in the tall weeds in the ditch. I didn’t know them, but knew they weren’t much younger than me. In an instant, what seemed like a fun summer night driving around town turned deadly.
Those images stuck with me through college and my first job in Arkansas City where I was a reporter and editor. A similar call came in the newsroom one afternoon about the time school was letting out. A one-car accident was reported in the northwest part of the county.
We pulled to the scene and EMS and fire crews were working the accident. A young man had lost control of his car and crashed into a fence row. He was killed instantly.
I share these stories as a former reporter and as a current parent. They are images that are forever etched in my memories. They were so-called war stories that reporters share when discussing what they’ve done over the years. But as a parent now of two teens that are learning to drive, they serve as teaching moments that cause me to tense up each time they are behind the wheel.
Not every trip out of the driveway will end in tragedy, but I want my children—everyone’s children— to know the risks. It’s dangerous enough under normal circumstances for these young drivers to navigate town. Adding too much speed, hazardous weather or all of the distractions of modern technology and the risks multiply.
I don’t want some young reporter to ever have to walk up to a crash and see another child injured or killed. While they may be good teaching moments or stories to share back at the newsroom, they are tragedies that can’t be reversed.
John Milburn is the Director of Legislative and Public Affairs for the Kansas Department of Administration



A game of inches

By Keith Lindemann

Can you remember the last time you had the experience of standing on the highway while passing vehicles fly by? Chances are, you were pretty nervous while you were changing that flat tire or adding that gallon or two of gas. The sound of tires on the pavement just inches away and the rush of air created by the passing vehicles are warning signs of how dangerous it is out there. These warning signs should motivate you to finish the job before the unthinkable happens. The unthinkable is - being struck and killed by a passing motorist.
I experience these feelings most every shift while working the streets, roads and highways as Captain on Rescue-1. Rescue-1 responds with law enforcement and EMS to all injury accidents in Salina, and in Saline County. Once on the scene of an accident, my responsibilities include traffic control and performing extrication techniques to free trapped occupants. Believe me - traffic control is often times more challenging than the extrications themselves. Directing all oncoming traffic safely around the emergency scene can be challenging, mainly because of inattentive drivers.
Did you know that if changing your flat tire takes 30 minutes, up to 300 vehicles might pass by during that time? How many of those 300 drivers are drunk, drugged, drowsy, texting or distracted by something else in their vehicles? These human factors, along with ice, rain, snow, curves and hills, are the leading causes of secondary collisions.
Despite attending and instructing classes in Traffic Incident Management and setting up the perfect traffic control zone, I have been conditioned to never really be comfortable while working in traffic. Most responders don’t trust the traffic because of close calls they have experienced at one time or another during their careers. On average, 12 law enforcement officers, 5 firefighters, and 60 tow operators are killed each year due to distracted drivers crashing into emergency scenes.
Why am I writing this blog? Why am I so passionate about the subject? My passion is fueled because of personally experiencing several close calls (some within inches) and by witnessing a few actual secondary crashes during my 30 years with the Salina Fire Department (26 assigned to Rescue-1). Thankfully I am alive to write about them.
In 2011, a distracted driver ran into one of our scenes on I-135 and struck a Salina PD officer who was assisting with traffic control (see photo above). I witnessed this secondary crash while standing in the median about 100 feet away. I will never forget the emotions I felt while running toward the patrol car to check on the condition of the officer and distracted driver. The crash resulted in 2 additional patients, and yet more traffic control problems. Thankfully both the officer, who was seated in his vehicle, and the distracted driver were treated and released from our local hospital.
Lindemann during rope rescue training
We’ve all heard the message “Move Over and Slow Down.” The public needs to know that “Move Over and Slow Down” is a state law in Kansas and not just a suggestion. Vehicles traveling at highway speeds crashing into vehicles that are stopped are always more severe than the original crash and often times result in fatalities. I can say that when my crew and I are working an incident, the drivers that actually move over and actually slow down absolutely make the scene safer for everyone, including themselves.
In closing, my recommendation for motorists would be to always be aware of conditions ahead, watch for emergency lights in the distance, obey warning signs and traffic cones, and move over and slow down for responders. For those of you already practicing these recommendations, thank you! It really is a game of inches.
Keith Lindemann is the Fire/Rescue Captain at the Salina Fire Department


Don’t be selfish, be selfless

By Cpl. Jordan Couturier 

Throughout the brief 11 years of my career in law enforcement I have witnessed the good, bad, and the ugly sides of traffic safety. Whether it was injury, fatality or no harm at all, each crash gave testament to a predictable denominator in each unfortunate incident:  failed human responsibility.
Obviously we cannot foresee when these crashes will occur. However, we certainly know they will occur and it is only a matter of when it will happen. Even though humans are intricately designed living organisms, capable of the most amazing feats, we fail at the most simple tasks. 
Crashes are preventable incidents.  Sure, there are examples of cataclysmic events or sudden mechanical failure. But, the vast majority of crashes occur because a person is failing to complete a task. No one intends to be involved in a crash. They might feel they are the safest driver on the roadway. 
But what about the other driver thinking they can make up time while running a little late for a meeting?  Or the driver following closer than usual behind a vehicle moving at a seemingly snail like pace?  And of course, there is the driver who quickly glances now and then at their phone just to make sure nothing else is happening in the world?  But, they aren’t you right? You’re the safest driver on the street.
So what is the problem then?  What is the predictable denominator?  Them?  The other drivers?  Guess again.  It is you. It is us. Frankly, we humans are selfish.  We are more concerned about our own little driving world that we willingly cut corners and push the envelope while setting aside the common sense rules of the road. What do you think would happen if we all cared a lot less about ourselves and cared a little more about the motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians sharing our traffic ways? It definitely would not be a perfect world, but I would bet each one of us would be a lot safer on the roadways.   
So, how did I get to this conclusion? Possibly it was the teenage boy thrown over 60 feet from his bicycle after being struck by a vehicle while attempting to cross a four-lane city street. Maybe it was the drunk parents colliding with trees and vehicles with their kids seated in the back. Perhaps it was the pregnant mother walking the shorter route across the street and meeting the front bumper of a passing motorist. Or maybe it has been the hundreds of other crashes I have responded to where someone needed to get somewhere fast and in a hurry, distracted themselves with anything other than driving their several thousand pound vehicle, and ignored the basic rules of driving. 
What do they all have in common?  You. You are the drivers, the pedestrians, and the cyclists.  It begins and ends with you. No more excuses. Choose to be responsible for your own safety and those around you. Make the conscious decision to care more about the people affected by your traffic safety practices. Don’t be selfish. Be selfless.   

Cpl. Jordan Couturier is with the City of Leawood Police Department


Your decisions on the road affect others

By Neal Charles


I’m that guy you talk to on the phone when you see or are part of a crash. I’m the one trying to keep you calm on the line and get the information of what has happened and what is needed in that moment. I’ve been working in the Kansas Turnpike’s Incident Management Center for several years, and unlike those who experience one or two accidents in their lifetime, I hear and assist with multiple crashes each week.

You would think as someone who is regularly on the other end of the line during these intense situations that I would become numb to what I hear. Well, that definitely isn’t the case. While I’ve unfortunately become used to tragic news, those calls about major incidents still get my heart pumping every time. I’ve experienced so many fatalities over the years, many of which still stick to me.

One that I still think about happened several years ago when a drunk driver hit a family in another vehicle, killing almost everyone involved. They were just headed to their family vacation. In an instant, the whole family was changed because of a complete stranger’s decision to drink and drive.

As the person on the other end of the phone, we don’t know the people involved. We stay calm, gather information and dispatch personnel. But, these people stay with us. They’ve gone through moments that are unimaginable.

I urge all of you to remember - your decisions on the road affect others. Stay alert, and don’t make stupid decisions. Traffic laws are there for a reason. I don’t want any of you to be another fatality on a call I answer.

Neal Charles is the Incident Management Center Assistant Supervisor with the Kansas Turnpike Authority

It can wait

By Galen Ludlow

As a KDOT employee with 30-plus years I have witnessed many incidents that could have had disastrous consequences for both the motorist involved and the workers in the work zone.
One of those that really stuck in my mind happened in the first summer of my career. Our crew had set up a work zone to do some patching in the southbound lane on a two-lane highway with paved shoulders. At this time, we were on 10 hour days so by 8 a.m., signs were set at proper spacing and cones for the flagman stations placed.
I was assigned to the south end station and as work started, we (flagmen) began alternating our traffic through the work zone. Shortly after this I observed a single car coming up to the Road Work Ahead sign. I had my flagging paddle turned to stop and left hand raised as required. As the car continues towards me I can hear the sound of the tires on the pavement and the engine. There was no noticeable change in sound as would be associated with a vehicle slowing down. I was taught by senior employees that listening for these is a good way to tell if the vehicle is slowing down.
Still heading toward me and now approaching the Flagman Ahead sign, speed still unchanged, I can see the sun visor is down and the driver is glancing back and forth between the road and the visor mirror. I began backing away toward the shoulder as they quickly approached. When the vehicle passed me I screamed “HEY!” as loud as I could and the driver slammed on the brakes and came to a stop.
As I walked up to the vehicle, I observed a young lady of high school age with a bag of makeup sitting on her lap. She was visibly shaken and apologized. She stated she had not noticed the signs and admitted being distracted by trying to finish her makeup because she was running late. I said to her it is better to be late than not get there at all and sent her on.
In so many ways this could have ended tragically. If we would have been working in the other lane or there had been traffic going through the work zone, injuries and possible fatalities could have occurred. And now with all of today’s technology, there are even more ways for drivers to be distracted. 
Most of us have family we wish to return home to at the end of each day. Waiting to make that call, send that text or even putting on makeup until it can be safely done will help you make it to your original destination and not your final destination. May your travels be safe and pleasant.
Galen Ludlow is KDOT Area Superintendent in Dodge City