Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Many reasons to celebrate

Sara Fairbank
Sara and Trenton are pictured with their daughter.
As I write this blog, my family and I have just celebrated our beautiful baby girl’s first birthday. She is the sweetest little girl and can light up any room with her smile. She has blessed our family in more ways than I can easily explain. As I experience these special moments with my family, I feel so blessed to be alive. This story could have been so much different if my husband and I had not been wearing our seat belts four years ago.
In July of 2014, my husband and I were traveling to the lake in our four-door sedan. We were looking forward to a weekend with family. However, we never made it to our destination. At an intersection on the highway, my husband and I were stopped at a stoplight. We heard tires squeal behind us and saw a black SUV moving to get out of their stopped position from behind us. As we were sidetracked watching this SUV, we were rear ended by a tow truck traveling at highway speeds. Neither of us saw it coming.
Our car was pushed over 150 feet through the intersection and the frame of our vehicle was inches from our heads. We both lost consciousness, endured numerous cuts and bruises, experienced terrible whiplash and concussions, and had severely sore muscles. We were taken by life flight to the nearest hospital while the driver of the tow truck walked away from the accident.
After nearly one year of vestibular rehab and physical therapy, we were able to settle into our new normal. Even four years later, we still have certain struggles that we deal with daily. These include short-term memory problems, aches/pains and emotional anxiety particularly while driving. However, we feel blessed to be alive. The driver of the tow truck stated he had been distracted while driving. He was fatigued and adjusting his air conditioner when he realized he was unable to stop his vehicle at the stoplight.
To all drivers, we urge you to pay attention while you are driving. No text or distraction is worth causing an accident and potentially taking yours or someone else’s life. To everyone, we urge you to wear your seat belt. Our seat belts prevented further injury that July day and we are so thankful we took those extra couple of seconds to buckle up! Had we not done so, we may not be here celebrating our baby girl’s first birthday.

 Sara Fairbank is an Assistant Controller for a venture capitalist firm and Trenton Fairbank is a former engineer. The couple currently lives in Cimarron.


Monday, September 17, 2018

He didn't stand a chance

Coleen and her brother, Jim, are pictured
at David's grave.

By Coleen Weber
It was in the early morning hours on Oct. 15, 2000, and the telephone rang at our house in Topeka. My parents were visiting, and we had celebrated my youngest daughter’s 10th birthday the day before. I answered the phone and heard the voice of my brother Jim. 
I don’t remember a lot after that. Apparently, I screamed because the next thing I knew my parents and my daughters were standing in our bedroom. My husband had to tell my parents that their youngest son, David, had been killed in a car wreck.  He was 36.
The next few hours were absolute chaos. As the oldest of my parents’ children, I was the “fixer” and this was something I couldn’t fix. I grew up in Blue Rapids and all I could think about was how to get everyone back home because my other brother needed us. 
So, what happened?  My brother worked for the railroad and was on the road during the week. He was divorced and week-ends at home were spent thoroughly enjoying himself with his friends, and alcohol was always involved. And that is how my youngest brother became a drunk driving statistic.
He and two friends were out driving around in the country; it’s what many people do in small towns when there’s nothing else to do. He apparently was driving too fast, hit a “washboard” on the dirt road and rolled his truck. His blood alcohol level was .20. He and one of his friends were trapped in the vehicle; the other was able to get out and run for help. Thankfully the passengers both survived, but my brother died at the scene. He was drunk, he didn’t have on a seat belt and the driver’s side window was down … he didn’t stand a chance.
There is nothing that can prepare you for a phone call like the one I received that morning. It was terrifying. There is also nothing as horrible as watching your parents navigate through their grief of losing their youngest child. My brother was loud and obnoxious and loving and loyal and goofy and athletic and protective …. we miss him horribly. 
If nothing else, I hope my story has made you think twice about getting behind the wheel of your vehicle and driving after you’ve had a drink (or two), or getting in a vehicle with someone who has been drinking. Don’t become another statistic on a piece of paper …. you are much more important than that.

Coleen Weber is a Program Consultant with the Kansas Department of Transportation in Topeka.

Friday, September 14, 2018

I didn't look up in time

By Shiane Wondra

June 30, 2018, changed my life. I just finished with my cheerleading car wash and eating lunch with my boyfriend. I left Meade, which is my hometown, to go to Horsethief Reservoir to go tubing with my family. I never made it.

Like many teens and adults, I was on my cell phone while driving. Around 2:30 p.m., I was three miles south of Cimarron when I was snapchatting my friend that I was about to see the lake. I was wearing my seat belt, but not correctly. A combine was parked on county road R and a milk truck was waiting northbound on Highway 23 to turn onto road R but there was a car southbound on Highway 23 so he couldn’t turn. I didn’t look up in time and I ran right into the back of the semi.

My parents had both tried to call me and at 2:56 p.m. My Dad texted me telling me to answer my phone.

Not even two minutes later my parents got a phone call that absolutely no parent wants. “Mr. Wondra, this is Gray County Sheriff's office, your daughter has been in an accident.”

All my Dad asked was if they were taking me to Dodge City. They told him yes and he hung up the phone. He told everyone I was in a crash and my parents raced to Dodge City.

My Mom asked my Dad on the way if I was okay and my Dad said, “I don’t know, I didn’t ask.” My Dad called my brother, who is a Meade City Police Officer, and asked him to call a Gray County Officer to see what happened. They told them that I hit a semi going 70 mph.

I was taken by ambulance from Cimarron to Dodge City. My family met me in Dodge City before the life flight took me to Wesley Medical Center in Wichita, due to my injuries. My best friend and her family were in Wichita and waited for me to land (thank you Bachman’s) while my parents drove the three hours to Wesley.

I got into the trauma center and I had to undergo more testing. I had a large cut to the right side of my head that took 23 stitches on the outside and so many on the inside that the trauma PA stopped counting. I also had one running stitch in my arm and six in between my big toe and second toe from wearing flip flops. I also had slightly collapsed lungs, a lacerated spleen, a fractured pelvis and broken two toes. The semi driver declined medical attention at the scene. The trailer was damaged, and my parents’ vehicle was destroyed.

June 30 changed my life. It has taken some time to recover from my injuries. I’ve missed the start of my senior year of sports, but I am alive. You never think it’s going to happen to you until it does.

Don’t text and drive - no call, text, email or snapchat is worth your life. Pull over! Your life and the lives around you depend on it.


  Shiane Wondra is a senior at Meade High School in Meade.


Thursday, September 13, 2018

Joint Legislative Transportation Vision Task Force – Kansas City meeting

Approximately 125 people gathered in Kansas City for the second Joint Legislative Transportation Vision Task Force yesterday, including legislators, industry leaders, local government representatives, and stakeholder advocates.

Kansas is Beachfront Property – Since the beginning of T-WORKS, we’ve emphasized the importance of our state’s central location as a natural advantage in logistics markets. Within one day and 5 miles of the task force meeting, Overstock.com announced it is filling a distribution center in the Turner district and will employee 100 people. Our geographic advantage is vital for business, as more and more companies move distribution centers to Kansas, and transportation infrastructure will be a key component of future economic development.   

Business supports transportation investments – Joe Reardon, CEO, Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce addressed the Task Force on behalf of businesses in Kansas City, telling the Task Force nothing affects economic opportunity and quality of life more than transportation.  His briefing emphasized the vital role transportation plays in the state and regional economy and he told the Task Force the Kansas City business community supports funding for transportation.

Opportunities and Impacts. KDOT presented information on demographic and economic trends along with information on aviation, transit and bike/pedestrian modes. Even as Kansas becomes more urban, rural residents depend on quality transportation options to access specialized and urgent care that may be miles from their homes. As the state’s population continues to age and technology like automated and connected vehicles continues to develop, how to adapt the state’s infrastructure and programs must be considered. Whether it’s a potential increase in demand for transit, the need for improved signs and pavement markings or new revenue sources, our transportation system and programs will need to adapt in the future.

Local Testimony Highlights Importance of Transportation Options. The Task Force heard about many ways that transportation is important to Kansans:  regional transit agencies help Kansans get to work on time and to medical appointments, a private citizen talked about the importance of improving the safety of an intersection to reduce traffic collisions, and bike and pedestrian advocates outlined the need for additional funding to increase safety and infrastructure availability for a mode that is seeing increased use around the state. Other stakeholders shared the importance of improving transportation infrastructure to drive economic growth.

The next meeting will be at Pittsburg State University on Sept. 20. Topics include projected transportation needs and funding and financing approaches in Kansas. The Task Force will also look at system conditions and the approach to funding and finance in other states.

The public is encouraged to attend a meeting and provide public testimony about why transportation is important to you, what’s working well and what could be improved.
Future meetings will discuss transportation modes in more detail:
  • Freight / freight rail / passenger rail – Newton, Oct. 4 from 8:00 – 9:30 a.m.
  • Aviation / transit / and bike/pedestrian – Wichita, Oct. 18 from 8:00 – 9:30 a.m.

Presentations from the meeting, information about future meetings, and instructions for providing testimony can be found on the Kansas Legislature website.  

The difference between life and death

Chris Fisher, center, with his brother, Nick, left, and their
father, Chris Sr.
By Chris Fisher
One day after his 60th birthday, my father was killed in a car accident that he would have walked away from...had he been wearing a seat belt. 
It was Monday, Feb. 12, 2018.  I had been off work long enough to eat lunch and was getting ready for a dental appointment when my mother’s name came up on my phone’s caller ID.
That was 1:33 p.m.
Initially, there was no voice on the other end, just the sound of her gasping for air and sobbing.
“Christopher, two state troopers just showed up to the house, they said your dad got killed in a car accident this morning…. Christopher, your dad is gone.”
In a matter of seconds, I went from dreading the dentist to wondering how life will ever go on without my dad.
It felt like somebody punched me in the gut as hard as they could, yet I felt no pain.    
“I’m so sorry for your loss, Mr. Fisher,” the trooper said after he took the phone from my mom.  I could still hear her in the background as he tried to explain what happened. “For some reason, your father veered off the road, overcorrected and rolled his truck. He was ejected and, unfortunately, died from his injuries at the hospital around 12:30 this afternoon. Again, I’m so sorry for your loss.”
My mind was racing a million miles an hour while my car felt like it was barely crawling as I headed to the farm. Once I arrived I walked inside the house and saw my mother in the corner of the living room sitting in a chair nobody ever used, holding her head in her hands, slowly rocking back and forth...crushed beyond belief.  Right then and there the complete numbness I felt in the hour drive instantly turned into overwhelming sadness and grief.  I broke down as I started to sit on the floor by her feet. 
Everywhere I looked there were signs that he was just there, because, of course he was just there.  Alive and well just hours before.
His lunch pail sat next to the door leading to the garage, with a Gatorade and package of crackers sitting inside. His glasses were sitting on top of the newspaper on the table next to his favorite spot to read and nap. His jacket rested on the back of one of the chairs at the kitchen table. The big, beautiful house he worked so hard to build was the emptiest it has ever felt, knowing that he would never be coming back. 
My dad owned his own masonry business, and that particular day he set out to deliver a load of sand to a job he had been working on the past several weeks. The crash happened on a route he was very familiar with, in a truck he had driven for more than 10 years. He was less than five minutes away from the jobsite. 
A day later, my brother and I drove past the scene of the accident. Signs of the crash were just as the trooper described.
We saw the tire tracks leave the road to the left, then leave the road to the right and then skid marks, several dents in the pavement leading up to a large patch of sand and broken glass too thin for anyone to remove with a broom and dust pan.
The cab of the truck was beat up, but intact.
Traffic continued to zip by as if nothing had happened. 
First responders and doctors in the emergency room worked on my dad for almost two hours before realizing they could do no more. Cause of death: blunt force trauma to the head. 
Should he have somehow survived, it wouldn’t have been a life he would have wanted to live.
His mangled Ford F-550 stuck out like a sore thumb as we drove up to the salvage yard to collect any of his belongings that remained inside.
“How’s he doing?” asked a man who emerged from a back office.  He had apparently overheard my conversation with the woman behind the counter.    
“He’s dead,” I answered.
A look of shock and embarrassment came over his face as the room instantly fell silent.  
“He’s dead?” the man quietly repeated. 
At the time, I had no idea why he would assume whoever was riding in that truck made it out alive, but it became painfully obvious when I got an up-close look at the wreckage for myself. 
The cab was beat up, but still completely intact. Both doors still opened and shut with little effort.  Broken glass, loose change, old receipts, sandwich wrappers, various small tools and several discarded medical wrappers and supplies discarded by paramedics littered the floorboards. 
We also found his cell phone, and the coat he was wearing at the time of the crash, which was completely drenched in blood. 
While I already knew his lack of a seat belt was the difference between life and death in this accident, seeing how intact the cab of that truck was multiplied the pain of losing my father a thousand times over.  
It was a crash he could have survived 100 out of 100 times had he just been buckled up - I have absolutely no doubt about this. 
He wouldn’t have even had to crawl out the window.  He could have just opened the door and brushed off the dust. 
But, that wasn’t the case. 
Instead of returning to work to write news for WIBW, I had to write my dad’s obituary and help plan his funeral.
For some reason, nothing anyone could say or do would get this man to wear his seat belt.  My brother and I both survived crashes in our teenage years that could have easily paralyzed or killed the both of us had we not been safely strapped in.
I would share with him some of the tragedies we would cover at the station and how simply a life could have been saved if and only if that person would have been wearing their seat belt. 
We talked about the myths of wearing a seat belt. How they, in fact, do not cut you in half when you’re in a crash, and they are much more reliable now than they were back then.
For some reason, none of that resonated. Clearly, old habits are hard to break. For whatever reason, he just wouldn’t do it… and here we are. 
While I will always respect, admire and miss my dad, I also will always wonder why he could never see the importance of wearing a seat belt. 

Chris Fisher is an Anchor/Reporter at WIBW-TV in Topeka.