I wear my seatbelt…always will.
Why such a firm practice? An explanation of the reasons may be considered a bit gruesome. With that warning, read on at your own risk.
It was early one spring morning in Austin, Minn., when the telephone rang. There had been an accident on Interstate 90 down below the Highway 218 overpass bridge. As a young newspaper reporter for the Austin Daily Herald, I got my camera and went to the accident scene at the north edge of the city.
Once there, I headed down the embankment from the overpass bridge to the interstate highway. There was a wrecked car. A really wrecked car. I took a picture as I went. Seeing the flash — the sun hadn’t come up enough for a daylight picture — a blonde haired, middle-aged lady sat up from the ambulance gurney. Blood was running down her face. “No pictures, no pictures,” she screamed several times.
By that time, I had already seen what she didn’t want photographed… a teenage boy still in the car. His head had been literally smashed by the impact from hitting the bridge pillar. He had no sign of life.
After the ambulance left, I took some pictures… from a distance not showing the teenager. As requested by law enforcement officers, I didn’t get up very close … both because of the request and because I didn’t have the stomach for it anyway. The passenger side of the front of the vehicle — a part of the bumper and grille, the front wheel, the fender, everything — had all been thrown back into the front seat of the car where the boy had been riding. It was likely that he had been sleeping. It was ugly to say the least.
The situation leading up to accident had been this: The teenager was a member of the Austin Drum & Bugle Corps unit that had been participating in a competition in Wisconsin. The competition was to continue later that day but the boy needed to get back to Austin for his shift at a fast-food restaurant. The lady/driver had volunteered to take him back but after a few hours of driving in the dark of night had apparently fallen asleep as she came into Austin. The car had veered off and hit the bridge support structure.
This all happened more than 40 years ago but I remember it as clear as a bell. It was one of several ”experiences” while covering accidents for newspapers in southern Minnesota in those years. Those experiences included seeing a middle-aged couple sitting dead in the front seat of their smashed car following a head-on crash (the other driver had crossed over the centerline), of watching as the coroner turned over the body of a man lying at the bottom of the ditch to pronounce him dead, of watching as a mom and dad came to the emergency room at the hospital to identify their dead son.
There were a number of tragic, horrendous crashes over that period of six years. The memories just don’t go away.
Back then, big V-8 engines powered the cars and there wasn’t nearly enough attention paid to speeding, to seat belt use, to driving while impaired or any other contributing danger.
Most law enforcement officers and ambulance attendants likely have experienced similar situations. I’m sure that the memories don’t go away for them either.
If there is one thing that all of the victims had in common it was that they didn’t think it could happen to them. Using the seatbelt will give me a better chance that it doesn’t happen to me. For that reason, I will wear it religiously. I sure hope that you do that, too.
Thoughts expressed in this column are those of the author and are not necessarily a reflection of the opinions of the other members of the Polk County Board of Commissioners.