The Governor's Office of Highway Safety's program "Click It Or Ticket" kicks off today. It's something we all need to participate in, as I learned last Nov. 3.
I was driving to work and had stopped at an intersection on U.S. Highway 19/41 in another county. The light turned green and we proceeded through the intersection when all of the sudden a pickup truck, I guess thinking he could beat us through the intersection (and face it, we've all done that), turned in front of us.
What happened next has been a part of my thoughts and the subject of a few nightmares nearly every day since.
The first pickup and a pickup in the adjacent lane, which was leading the pack through the intersection, smacked into each other. It was a pretty good impact, but not something extraordinary. Good for a few strains and bruises, a bump on the head and maybe a wrenched back. I prepared to stop and see what I could do call for help, offer a few words of comfort before the ambulance arrived.
As I look around to pull over, truck one makes a slow half circle directly in front of me and ends up in the median and there was no one inside. I turned, confused at what was happening and that's when I saw him. A combination of the impact and not wearing a seatbelt had caused Driver One to somehow get thrown out of the closed passenger window of his bright, shiny, truck onto the road.
Over and over he rolled before finally coming to rest face down.
The human body isn't made to handle something like that neither is the psyche.
Things froze for a split second and then it seemed like the world was suddenly enveloped in clear Jell-o. Voices seemed muted, movements were forced.
We did what we could for Driver One who, although gravely injured, was still clinging to life. Driver Two got out of his truck and staggered around. A man and a woman took over and helped him to an area away from the accident scene. Although banged up, he was OK.
Driver One died later that night, surrounded by his family who were grateful to have the chance to say their goodbyes. About a month later they put a memorial on the side of the road, near where he came to lay that day.
Driver One was a UGA fan and alumni, a daddy, a husband and an only child. His name was Art. He was a pharmacist.
His sister-in-law called me a few days after the accident to thank me and ask some questions. She said he always told his children to wear their seat belts but admitted that he rarely did.
A few weeks later his son called. Despite his loss, he was concerned about my experience that morning.
"If there is anything we can ever do for you, just let us know," he said.
"OK," I replied. "Never, ever go anywhere in any vehicle without buckling a seat belt. And never let anyone you care about go without a seatbelt."
He assured me he would do just that.
So think about this the next time you jump in the car to run down the street for a gallon of milk. Buckle up. If not for yourself, then for the others in your life.
Tamara Boatwright is the managing editor of the News Daily and Daily Herald. She may be reached at (770) 478-5753 ext. 272 or firstname.lastname@example.org