Friday, September 22, 2017

Do you drive with the idea that people’s lives are at risk?

By Anthony Cruz
Whether you consider yourself a safe driver or you know that you’re driving could use some improvement, it always comes down to making a personal choice. We all make choices with our driving and each choice has positive and negative results.
Anthony Cruz
As a defensive driving instructor, I have the opportunity to meet hundreds of people who share their daily driving experiences, frustrations and bad habits.  When asked, most know National Safety Council’s six most unsafe driving behaviors that cause or contribute to fatal collisions.
  1. Improper speed
  2. Violating right of way
  3. Driving left of center
  4. Turning improperly
  5. Passing improperly
  6. Following too closely
Yet, many have the illusion of control and they overestimate their ability to control events. So they send out that text or have that one drink, believing bad things only happen to other people.  What I have learned is the majority of those who attend my defensive driving class are willing to hear about ways to avoid collisions, eager to adopt change and willing to create personal policies with their driving behaviors regarding texting and driving or driving without a seat belt.  However, there is that percentage of people who think they will be the only one affected if they are killed in an accident and feel that using personal protective devices and speeding is their choice, and making the choice should be left up to the individual and not the government. 
People think they will be the only affected if they are killed in an accident. I really wish this were true, but sadly it’s not. Part of my job duties include monitoring radio traffic at the law enforcement center, so I hear first-hand the number of resources that are used during an accident. It can be quite expensive and that is only the financial part of the equation. The emotional toll it takes on families can be lifelong. The first questions I ask before I start each class and the questions we should always ask ourselves when we get behind the wheel are:

  • How would my family be affected if I were killed or injured in a traffic collision?
  • What if one of the important people in my life were killed or injured in a traffic collision?
  • What if the accident was preventable?
If you answer these questions honestly, you will realize it’s not just about you.  Driving is a full-time job and needs your full attention, because your life and the life of those you love depend on it. 
Anthony Cruz has been with Finney County Emergency Management for three years, and is a Kansas Certified Emergency Manager.  He has been teaching defensive driving three years, twice a month and issued more than 400 certificates.  


Thursday, September 21, 2017

One of many near-misses

By Kevin Crain
Working in a highway work zone can be a dangerous job, and being a flag person is one of the most important jobs in the work zone. As a flagger you bear a lot of responsibility for the safety of your coworkers and the traveling public.
Kevin Crain
I remember an incident that occurred on a U.S. 169 patching operation. The work zone included all the required signs, and each flagger wore a high visibility vest and orange hat. At that time, KDOT did not place lead-in cones on the centerline as we now do. I had just cleared my traffic and was watching a car coming at me at a high rate of speed. I was beginning to wonder if the driver even saw me standing there holding the flagging paddle. As the car came closer, it still was not slowing down so I started moving the paddle, hoping to get the driver’s attention.
An experienced coworker once told me that a flag person needs to take control of a potentially dangerous situation. My colleague said that people in the vehicles could be like sharks in that if they sense fear they will not respect you. I also thought about the crew operating the patching equipment and realized that I was the only defense between them and this car.
I just stood there waving the flagging paddle, hoping I would get this car to stop before it hit me. At the last moment, the car did stop about five feet from where I stood. The driver rolled down the window and stated that he could not see me standing in the roadway. That was hard to believe. I asked if he had seen the signs telling him there was roadwork ahead and he responded that he had not. Then I requested that he look into his rearview mirror – and finally, he could see the signs.
He wanted to know what was going on. These folks were not happy about being stopped, but I explained to the driver that we were doing road repairs and that they would have to wait a few minutes before they could proceed. Once we cleared the traffic from the other end of the work zone, I turned my flagging paddle to SLOW and let them go on their way.
This is one of many near-misses that I have witnessed throughout my nearly 20 years of working at KDOT. I ask people to pay attention to their surroundings while driving. People in work zones also have families that we want to go home to every day.

Kevin Crain is the Supervisor at the KDOT Altamont Subarea office.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Two of my worst crashes

     My name is Gene F. Winkler and I am an EMT for Marion County in Kansas. I started my service with the Marion County EMS in August 1972.
Gene Winkler
     I would like to tell you about, what I consider the worst two crashes of my career after 44 years of service. It was a nice summer day, clear and sunny, on June 28, 2004. I was working rescue as first response when there was a vehicle crash. The page came out to respond to two semi-trailers and one pickup crash at the intersection of Highway 50 and Sunflower Road.  While in route we were told it was at a highway construction site. I climbed into the rescue truck and started toward the scene, which was about 10 minutes south of Marion.
     When I arrived on the scene I found a semi had stopped for the construction zone flagger and a small Dodge pickup, which was on fire, also had stopped. Then the second semi had run into the pickup pushing it under the first semi. The second semi driver said he fell asleep.
     When the fire was put out by the fire department, we removed two young men out of the truck. Both were charred and pronounced DOA at the scene.
     The next day June 29, 2004, in the afternoon the page came out to respond to the same location for another crash. We all thought this could not be happening on back to back days.
     Again, I responded in the rescue truck not knowing for sure what I was going to find today, especially after we had just had two fatalities the day before.
     When I arrived on scene, I could not believe the mess we all were about to undertake. There was a semi that stopped at the construction zone flagman, which was loaded with rock. Two cars had stopped also, the first car had a man and wife, the second car had three people. Then came the second semi. It plowed into the two cars, pushing them under the truck with the rock. This caused all the rock to come back onto and cover the two cars. The second semi then ran on top of the two cars.
     When we started assessing the scene we found that the three people in one car and two people in the other car were badly dismembered and all five were pronounced DOA. Seeing lots of children’s things in the back seat, we feared that they also had a child in the back seat, and we could not get to the backseat. After checking with family members, the child had been dropped off at their house and was not in the car at the time of the accident. At this point I had been an EMT for 32 years and I never want to go thru this again.
Roundabouts save lives
In Marion County, we had two intersections where numerous crashes occurred. The first is at Florence. It is where Highway 77 runs north and south and crosses Highway 50.  We were continually paged out for people running together. Most often it was the fault of people coming off Highway 77 and either hitting or being hit by a car on Highway 50.  On Sept. 7, 2006, the new roundabout was opened. Since then there has been zero fatalities.
     The second intersection, also on Highway 77, Highway 50 and K-150. KDOT installed rumble strips, a lighted stop sign and signs saying Highway 77 traffic does not stop, but nothing seemed to stop the crashes. People in the community wanted a roundabout at that intersection as well and were glad when it opened on Dec. 23, 2015. To date there has been zero fatalities.
     If you recall, throughout this story I do not call these accidents. These are car or vehicle crashes. Crashes can be prevented – here are a few tips:
uKeep your mind on the road.
uDo not text and drive.
uStop every so often for breaks.
uWhen you stop at a stop sign look to the right, look to the left and then look back to the right.
uDon’t look past the cars coming in the other lanes.
uDon’t automatically think that the other car is going to stop.
     Please remember, no matter how careful you drive, you always have to be aware of the other driver.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Peace at last

Norbert Angell III
By Norbert Angell III
It was a typical morning, early to rise, coffee on, a quick glance of the morning edition. The obits were always the last stop, just to make certain I wasn’t in there and that I did, indeed, need to continue the day.
I gasped, felt sad, then for the first time in my life, felt relief for another’s passing. It was an instant of pain that was fleeting and welcomed. He was finally going to rest in the peace that he so much deserved. His suffering had been within, alone, and self-imposed, because he couldn’t feel anything else but pain.
He was my mentor. He helped me learn the craft of fireman, handling light locomotives around the yards. Later he helped me polish the skills of operating the heaviest of trains, with grace and finesse. He was selfless. We thought of him as a folk hero for his giving of a kidney to an ailing sibling in a time when it was unheard of. He sacrificed greatly in his personal life for that act, but was convinced it was just needed.
He was an incredible engineer. He could handle anything and always made it look easy. He never once fudged on a rule or neglected an order.
It all crashed down on him when he could see his retirement possibly in the next handful of years. It was a bright sunshine filled day. He had started his trip at the far-away terminal. He had plans when he arrived home. He would spend time with his grandkids, home on spring break. As he rounded the curve, on to the straight away, over a mile off, he thought he saw silhouettes on the trestle bridge that crossed the dry creek. It was once used as a water stop in the steam days. As he neared, he knew what was ahead. He did everything imaginable to stop his train, he prayed, he blew the whistle to the point of constant tones. He saw that his prayers were not answered. The older boys had scrambled across the bridge, the younger brother fell, and then stood up at the last moment, just in time for my hero to plainly see!
That was the last train he ever operated. That was the last time anyone saw him on a regular basis. He claimed he had lost his soul. He knew he could never pass this way, again. Tormented, but now at Peace…rest my Brother.

Norbert Angell III, is a retired Locomotive Engineer and Kansas Operation Lifesaver volunteer presenter, coach and board member.

Operation Lifesaver is a nationwide, non-profit public safety education and outreach program designed to eliminate collisions, deaths and injuries at rail crossings and rights-of-way. Kansas was the third state to join Operation Lifesaver in 1974.  To learn more, go to:
Next week, Sept. 24-30, is U.S. Rail Safety Week. For more details, go to:

Monday, September 18, 2017

Did we just crash?

By Sarah Smith
Sarah's vehicle involved in the crash.
It started off a morning just like any other. I headed down K-10 toward Olathe with two of my children in tow - my 5-year-old son, Micah, was seated in the third row of our mini-van, and my 2-year-old daughter, Ruby, in the second row. As we do most mornings, we were chatting and listening to music, when I noticed a deer cross the highway. He got clipped by a passing car, but seemed to be ok as he hopped into the woods. Having married a man from rural Kansas, I’d learned long ago that deer rarely travel alone, and although I knew this, I had no chance to process the thought.
Sarah and Dustin's children - Ruby, Johanna, Micah and Emery.
It happened so fast, the loud sound of impact, feeling my head hit something hard, and the shower of glass that rained into the car. Everything seemed to happen in slow motion and all at once. I tried to stay calm and managed to bring the van to a stop on the shoulder of the road. That’s when I noticed the blood spattered across the inside of the van, but I didn’t feel like I’d been hurt. I began to panic and immediately turned to check on the kids. They were alert and fine, except for the glass that covered us all. Micah calmly asked me, “Did we just crash?” I’d never felt so relieved to hear him talk in my life.
Finally after I put two and two together, I realized that we must have hit a deer, whose blood and antlers now covered the inside of the car. As I surveyed the situation, I realized that my children were both ok because they’d been sitting in their car seats.
When it comes to car seats, I’ve always been that mom. You know the kind that doesn’t move the car until everyone is seated and fastened. Maybe it was all those videos that they showed us in high school, or the crumpled car they parked in front of school before prom - whatever it was, it worked. Later, when I was pregnant with my first child, my husband and I knew that purchasing a car seat would be one of the most important decisions we could make. We did our research and carefully chose one to protect the life of our new baby.
Dustin and Sarah
My daughter, Johanna, who is 9 years old, was the first grandchild on my side of the family, and the new grandparents were somewhat baffled with this new contraption. I could tell that they questioned the necessity of the car seat, once even asking if it was ok to let the baby ride in their lap for a short trip.  Naturally the answer was a resounding, “No!”
My husband and I now have four children, and I am still that mom. I’m generally easy going, but when it comes to car seats, there is no discussion. All the kids ride in car seats or boosters, including the 10-year-old, whose eye rolling hasn’t gotten her out of her high-back booster.
I hit the buck going 70 miles per hour, and yet my son, daughter and I walked away with minor bumps and scratches. I have no doubt that if my children had not been safely secured in their car seats the outcome would have been very, very, different.
Sarah Smith is a Project Manager for Johnson County Public Works in Olathe.

Friday, September 15, 2017

What distracted driving does to a family

My stepson, Max Kelly, is a very intelligent young man who is addicted to electronic devices. Since he began driving, he has totaled out three cars and had another five known accidents. The last accident was life altering. Not only life altering for Max but for our family as well.
On Jan. 5, 2017, Max was returning from college and was excited about going to Lawrence for the weekend. He was tweeting a buddy of his at 11:18 a.m. and was not looking ahead, driving 75 to 80 mph on I-70 west of Manhattan. Max struck the rear end of a KDOT snowplow that was turning around (mile marker 320). He was taken by air ambulance to Stormont Vail Healthcare Hospital in Topeka.
Max's vehicle in the Jan. 5, 2017, crash.
Our lives changed that day. I was traveling for my job and my wife, Nicole, called me when I was on a layover in Detroit. I diverted my flight back to Kansas to see Max in the hospital. Max’s injuries were life threatening - Nicole and I were numb.
The next 20 some days Max was in a coma. On the seventh day, Nicole and I met with the neurosurgeon to make the final decision if we were to sustain his life. We kept him alive and he was classified at a 2 on the Ranchos Los Amigos scale (1 is a vegetable). Max was transferred to the Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital in Lincoln, Neb. Nicole and I began visiting Max almost every weekend.
Luckily since I travel so much, we used hotel loyalty points to stay the weekends. Every trip still was very expensive. This event has strained us financially and more so emotionally.
Max’s 19th birthday was spent in the hospital. Max eventually went to QLI in Omaha, Neb., and began extensive rehabilitation. Again, travel almost every weekend. This is emotionally stressful to both of us - many tears and heated debates haunt us daily.
Max began to wake up from his traumatic brain injury and realized something bad had happened to him This was sometime in June. He began to ask questions such as, was he alone when the wreck occurred? He calls Nicole multiple times a day upset and wants to come home. Hearing him begging daily to come home and that we are forcing him to be in a rehabilitation hospital is very hard for the both us.
Focusing on Max has played a big part of not spending quality time with his younger brother Nick. This is stressful as well as owning our own business. Since Max’s accident, we had to move our business to a new location, turn down caterings and forgot to get into festivals to vend food. Being gone from home during these times to visit Max has affected our business, relationships, family, friends, house, daily chores and our way of life. 
Nicole has been taking care of Max’s care and it has not been easy. Since he is over 18, we have had to hire two different lawyers to handle his affairs. Nicole is on the phone daily with case managers, nurses, doctors, lawyers and insurance companies attending to his care. We have great insurance, but it only covers so much.
Max is to come home soon and we are trying to get our house reconfigured so it can accommodate someone with permanent disabilities. Thankfully we are getting help from friends, but it is very stressful. I also was planning on retiring next January, but due to insurance and expenses, it may now be three more years. Max will be coming home soon and we must re-learn to live our lives with someone with disabilities.

 Mike Weibel is Max’s step-father and is from Topeka.


Thursday, September 14, 2017

So many lives cut short

Left to right - Sandi Reneberg and Denise Miller.
Rural Kansas … a small town of 443 people … family oriented, farming community. The entire school district consists of about 200 students most years - 75 of which attend high school. This sounds like the ideal place to raise children, right?  For the most part, that’s true. Our children receive a wonderful, individualized education nurtured by a loving community that cares.
But, there is a downside. In the past 15 years, five students, from our small high school, have lost their lives in car accidents. Each one affects you … but then it hits far too close to your heart.
In 2013, Riley Reneberg lost his life at the age of 16, right after the school day ended. Not quite two years later, Courtney Faith, was traveling to school when her life was cut short. Both were high school sophomores.
These are the stories Riley and Courtney’s mothers will replay in their minds forever:

By Sandi Reneberg (Riley’s mom)
Riley was an outgoing, caring young man. He had tons of friends and wanted to be a part of everything, hanging out as long as he could. He happened to be riding around with some friends after school.While folding laundry, I had been reflecting on the accident that happened 10 years earlier on that day. In a small community, you know everyone. Thoughts of that boy’s parents had been weighing on my heart all day. What must they be feeling today?

Riley Reneberg
School was out early for teacher in-service. I had tried to reach Riley to ask when to expect him home, but there was no answer. The phone began to ring.  My nephew was on the other end of the line. He was in town and heard the emergency sirens sound. Word travels fast, and he heard there was an accident north of town. “Where is Riley?” he asked. As I hung up the phone and continued to call Riley, again and again, I ran to find my husband in the shop.  At this point, we had no idea what lie in store for the rest of our lives.
As we headed toward town, the police scanner blared. There were four people in an accident about a mile from our house. Our hearts sank as the voice announced, one code yellow, two code reds and one code black. We knew black meant we had lost yet another teen.  All we could do was pray for all involved and wait.
As we arrived where traffic was blocked near the accident site, one of our very good friends, a member of the Volunteer Fire Department, met us in tears.  I asked him if it was Riley, and he shook his head “yes.”  Our dear, sweet, boy was the code black … how would we ever go on without him?
The boys were, for lack of a better term, being boys. School was out early and they were “playing” the same way they did as children, but with bigger toys. Speeding through a mud puddle with two in the front of the pick-up, and two riding in the bed, receiving the muddy splatter. Innocent country fun … right?
WRONG!!!  No one was wearing a seat belt. They had no idea what risk they were taking as they “horsed-around” in the mud. After losing control, the pick-up left the road, rolling into a field. The two boys in the back jumped from the truck. Those in the front didn’t have that option.  With no seat belts, they were at the mercy of the tumbling vehicle. Both boys were ejected. One sustained massive injuries. Our Riley was instantly killed.  
The boy with the least injuries scrambled to locate a phone and call for help. They all knew what a desperate situation they faced and were forced to come to grips with the fate of their dear friend.  
Not only was our family changed forever, but these three boys, their families and the community would NEVER be the same.

 Fast forward a year and 10 months...

By Denise Miller (Courtney’s mom):
Courtney Miller
Nothing prepares you .... for the emptiness felt when you no longer hold your beautiful, bubbly daughter.  The girl who found the positive ray of sunshine in EVERY situation. The one who made you laugh until you cried. Courtney was that young lady!  EVERYDAY was her “Best Day Ever!”  She had dreams of going to North Central University and entering the mission field, excited to reach the people of the world with the Gospel.
Nothing prepares you …for standing at the edge of a field, held back by rescue workers, as you scream, cry, react. That realization that comes over you when you comprehend they are doing nothing to free your precious baby from her vehicle. Because ... there is nothing that can be done. It’s already too late.
Just moments earlier, I had kissed Courtney and told her I loved her as I began the seven-mile drive to school, wanting to arrive early and prepare for the day. She would be following that same course within half an hour. But before the morning bell had rung, I learned that she was involved in an auto accident. Not overly anxious about the fender-bender I expected to reach, I followed a first responder vehicle to the scene. The truck was not driving fast, so my mind was at ease, pondering cuts, bruises, at worst a broken bone. I was oblivious to the fact that my worst nightmare was about to begin. Courtney’s beautiful smile and the sound of her laughter would be absent both at home and in my class. Our family would NEVER be the same.
What happened? We will never know for sure. Courtney was a cautious driver. She was in no hurry and had time to visit with her dad in the kitchen over coffee. She was wearing her seat belt and her cell phone was tucked away in her back pocket.  But, she was a young driver. Did a deer cross the road causing her to swerve and overcorrect?  Was it simply the washboard condition of the road that she didn’t anticipate even though she traveled it each morning?  WE WILL NEVER KNOW!  We live each and every day with the empty place Courtney has left in our home, and in our hearts.
As mentioned earlier, these accidents occurred within a two-year time frame, and they were on the heels of far too many others.  

In conclusion -
Of the five accidents occurring over a 15-year timespan, only one occurred after dark!  
We make sure our teens buckle up and keep their phones safely tucked away when we are in the vehicle. But, what do they do when we’re not there?
Have you looked at the statistics? Have you talked with your teen, about the dangers they face EVERY TIME they crawl behind the steering wheel? Or, when they ride with someone else?
Following Courtney’s accident in February 2015, Jamie and Sandi Reneberg were determined this had to stop!  Because of their resolve and the support of the community, they contacted local law enforcement to see what could be done. As a result, Thunder Ridge High School now has the SAFE (Seatbelts Are For Everyone) Program, educating teens about the dangers they face as young drivers. And at the very first meeting, Denise Miller, a high school teacher and NHS Advisor, volunteered National Honor Society students to take the lead.  Since that time, seat belt usage has increased from 74% to 89%.  
Do we still have a long way to go?  Absolutely!  But if one life is saved, it could be the life of YOUR CHILD.  Sandi and Denise do not want you to tell a similar story!