Friday, September 29, 2017

Wild driving

Abbie Wisdom-Williams and her pet skunk.
I am Abbie Wisdom-Williams, a KDOT employee since February 2017 and a wildlife advocate and rehabilitator for almost 20 years. As most animal protectors go, we could probably be classified as clinically insane as to the lengths we go to ensure the safety of critters, both domestic and wild. A friend of mine was killed while trying to rescue a possum from a railroad track (not joking).
I was born with an overly developed sense of self-preservation so I try to be hyper aware of my surroundings when trying to rescue an animal. Sometimes it’s almost impossible to see everything. A very dear friend and fellow rescuer had a very close call this summer. We had a call of three baby raccoons in a ditch after a heavy rain. I was too far away so Jana drove out to pick them up. It was dark so she put on her flashers and started searching.  All three were found safe and sound and placed in a carrier.  Jana put the carrier in the back seat of her car, started around to the driver’s side when a car hydroplaned, slamming into the rear of her SUV. Jana was too focused on the condition of the raccoons and didn’t see or hear the vehicle. She was lucky, and the raccoons survived although they had to be cut out of the back of the car.
I don’t proclaim myself an expert (I’ve probably done some really stupid things), but I thought I might offer some tips as to sharing the roadways with the fuzzy, scaly and slimy things. 
Above all else, use common sense!  Don’t assume someone will see you picking up that turtle. Is there a chance you might chase that puppy into traffic instead of away from it?  Will that injured raccoon bite? If you don’t think you can help without the possibility of someone getting hurt, don’t do it. Call for backup, have someone watch traffic for you or call a professional (believe it or not, 911 is an option). Remember that an injured animal can be panicked, in pain and will lash out because he probably doesn’t know you are trying to help unless you are Dr. Dolittle.
Do you know why you see more dead armadillos than live ones?  It’s because they jump straight up when startled. A great tip to make wildlife aware that you are there is to randomly change the brightness of your headlights. A deer can see the lights but has no comprehension of the fact that they are attached to a proverbial brick wall. Changing the brightness draws their attention and can save their life, your car and maybe your life as well. Of course, follow the rules of the road when changing the brightness of your headlights, and dim appropriately when facing oncoming traffic.
Lastly, get to know the animals that live around you, their behavior, their habits, the environment as they see it. Understanding them may mean they will be less of a target for you.

Abbie Wisdom-Williams is a Senior Administrative Assistant for KDOT in Hutchinson  

Thursday, September 28, 2017


By Cindy Landgraf
Cindy Landgraf
If I had to choose one word to describe Jeff it would be dedication. Like most people, he was dedicated to his family, his friends, and his job. But for Jeff it was much more. As an EMT, he chose a career that was dedicated to taking care of others no matter what the cost. And like most EMTs, his co-workers were his family. They shared life-changing experiences every day. Experiences that can only be understood by others dealing with the same type of experiences every day. Experiences that bound them together like a family.
Jeff became an EMT in 1988 and went on to become a paramedic and a registered nurse. He had a passion for emergency response services - whether it was working as a paramedic and shift supervisor for Finney County EMS or an RN/Paramedic for EagleMed. But serving the community wasn’t enough. He wanted to help others interested in becoming EMTs, so he became an instructor certified to teach every aspect of EMS.  He especially enjoyed teaching EMT classes and mentoring others as they joined the emergency responder ranks.
On April 18, 2011, his EMS brother in Scott County needed help teaching a class.  Jeff happily answered the call, especially delighted because it was a fairly warm night for April so he was able to ride his motorcycle to Scott City.
At 10:30 p.m. that night, my daughter woke me up worried that Jeff wasn’t home yet.  She had seen on Facebook that Highway 83 was closed due to a traffic accident. I didn’t think anything about it. Jeff was teaching, taking as long as needed to help the students and the instructor.  After all, he was the one that saved lives.
With that thought still in my head, I heard a knock at my front door. There at my front door was a high school friend who is also the Captain of the KHP. I heard the words but didn’t understand. There was an accident. Jeff was gone. Nothing could be done to save him. Save him…. isn’t that what his EMS family was supposed to do – save him? Wasn’t that what he was teaching them to do? When I finally got some of my mind back, I looked up. There on my lawn stood almost the entire staff of the Finney County EMS, our EMS family, ready and waiting to support me and the children in our most difficult time.
Over the next few days, the details of the accident came clear. Jeff was headed home (south on Highway 83). Just outside of the Scott City limits, a pickup driver, thinking he had time to make the turn, turned onto Highway 83 in front of Jeff causing him to lay the motorcycle over. A few minutes later, a car failed to stop or even yield right of way to the pedestrian trying to wave him down. They continued through the accident scene hitting Jeff.
Jeff left behind a teenage daughter, young son, parents, brother, his extended family and a large emergency response family. In Jeff’s honor, we are all “boldly going forward."
Our daughter and I have both become EMTs.  Our son is like his father-  he loves to hunt, shoot and enjoy the outdoors. He is old enough to drive this year, and as a mom, a widow and an EMT, I remind him daily to be extra careful. 
Be aware of your surroundings, and if in doubt stop or slow down. It’s always better to arrive late than never.  

Cindy Landgraf is an EMT for both Lane and Scott County EMS.



Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Being a good driver doesn't always matter

Logan O'Dea
I always thought of myself as a good driver; I recently found out that doesn’t always matter.
My name is Logan O’Dea; I graduated from Kansas State in December. I played football for five years while there, so I figured that I could handle whatever the real world threw at me. That was before my first wreck.
It was early summer. I had just started my first job a couple of months prior, one that required me to commute from Topeka to Kansas City. The drive on Kansas Turnpike was one I was very used to at that point. It had rained hard the night before, but by that morning it had calmed to a light drizzle. I had never had any problem with rain while driving, so I didn’t pay it much mind. It had been pounded into my head by my KDOT aunt never to use cruise control while the roads are wet, but I still drove at my normal speed.
Just east of Lawrence, next to a rest stop, I changed to the left lane to pass a car. That was the point when I hit the standing water. I immediately lost control; my tires had no traction, so steering and brakes could do nothing as my car went off the road. As soon as I was off the road, I looked up and saw trees and thought, “I’m not going to miss those.” The weight of my engine caused my car to pivot 180 degrees, so now I was going backwards, which ended up saving my life. I collided with one of the trees, probably still going faster than 70 mph.
Logan's vehicle after the crash.
Miraculously, I walked away. A visit to the hospital following showed no injuries whatsoever besides soreness and a few scrapes. I know the biggest reason I walked away was I was wearing my seat belt (another thing my aunt always made sure I did); if I hadn’t been, my body would have been with the back-window glass they found flung 50 feet away from the car.
Looking back, I marvel at all the ways I was lucky that day. If the collision had happened anywhere but the rear of the car, I wouldn’t be here. The fact that there was level ground next to the road rather than a drop off also saved me. When I saw the wreckage that night, the rear tire was now pushing the driver’s side seat forward; I was told if the tire had gone any farther forward, both my legs would have shattered.
Through the ordeal and all the things that have followed, I always try to remember how lucky I am to be alive, let alone walking around. I know I have taken a few lessons from this, and I hope that others might as well. It doesn’t matter how good you think you are at driving, something can always happen. Hydroplaning is a very real danger.
And most importantly always wear your seat belt.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Avoiding potentially tragic situations

By Carter Smith
Carter Smith
I’ve only been working at the Turnpike for a year now, and in that short period of time, I’ve already been hit by a driver once and had three other close calls. In just one year. When I was struck, it was the first time I was snow plowing by myself. I had finished half a pass of plowing when a brand-new SUV hit my rear right tire and bumper. The person behind the wheel was driving well above what they should have been in the wintry, low visibility conditions, and was definitely not paying attention. It’s lucky they weren’t hurt, but the SUV was totaled.
Plus, it’s not just on the Turnpike where I see the consequences of bad decision while driving. I’ve been a volunteer fire fighter for four years now, and I’ve had to work my fair share of major crashes, including the fatality ones. I’ve seen people not wearing their seat belt and ejected from the vehicle. I’ve seen wrecks with teenagers as a result from drug and/or alcohol impairment. When you see a wreck that kills a 19-year-old that was clearly from distracted or impaired driving, it sticks with you. I mean, there were no skid marks that even suggested she tried braking.
Those really hit home since I have a 17-year-old sister. One of my first thoughts during those types of wrecks is, “What if it had been her?”
It feels really good to help other people. I like to think it makes a difference. But ultimately, people have become so distracted on the road, or make a stupid decision to drink and drive or not wear a seat belt. It’s simple actions we can do to avoid a potentially tragic situation, so please, drive smart.

Carter Smith is an Equipment Operator for the Kansas Turnpike Authority and also a volunteer fire fighter.

Monday, September 25, 2017

I was lucky

By Ciro Chavez
As an EMT and a KDOT employee, I’m usually the one providing care and assistance to others. I never thought there would be a time that I would be calling 911.
Ciro Chavez
As I traveled home in the early hours on a foggy December morning, I was surprised by a Toyota Corolla that crossed the center line and crashed head-on into my ‘97 Ford pick-up. 
After being transported to St. Catherine Hospital in Garden City, I was air lifted to a Denver area hospital. I was in an induced coma for 10 days. During this time, I had three facial surgeries and one extensive leg surgery. After two and a half weeks, I moved to a rehab center and was there until Feb. 8. Once I came home, I continued physical therapy until May of this year. 
After five months of recovery, I was finally able to return to my job as an Equipment Operator at KDOT, and it was good to be back.  At this time, I’m not able to return to my part-time position as an EMT due to my leg injury.
I was lucky. I was wearing my seat belt and it saved my life. When you get in the car, I want you and your families to remember me and remember to buckle up. It’s what saved my life and it can save yours. 
And if it starts to get foggy, pull over and wait it out. It’s better to be safe than sorry. 

Ciro Chavez began with KDOT as an Equipment Operator Trainee at the Lakin Subarea in southwest Kansas in October 2015.

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!  


Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Put the brakes on fatalities

Brandye Hendrickson
By Acting Federal Highway Administrator Brandye Hendrickson

        As autumn approaches, daylight gets shorter, children head back to school and we all settle into new routines. Winter is right behind it, and icy weather can make roads more dangerous. For these, and many other reasons, it is crucial for drivers to behave responsibly behind the wheel. It is imperative we all put our cellphones away, buckle up and be conscientious about other drivers.
        Fortunately, though the calendar still says it is fall, America’s roads are blooming with new safety innovations.  From rumble strips to new “mumble” strips, to connected-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure technologies, a host of cutting-edge tools are being deployed to keep drivers safer throughout the nation. We are also exploring a number of new safety data collection and analysis tools to help us track trends to better determine where safety investments should be made.
        All of us at the FHWA are working with the Kansas DOT and other state and local counterparts to address the challenge of making America’s highways safer – and to reduce America’s roadway fatalities each year. As is widely known, there were 35,092 fatalities on America’s roads in 2015. That is absolutely unacceptable. While we have spent years improving construction, repair and overall design of roads and bridges, most roadway fatalities are not due to the road but, instead, to driver error. Too many drivers are texting, drinking or just behaving recklessly behind the wheel. Sometimes pedestrians or bicyclists are not paying attention either.
        So while futuristic-sounding “autonomous vehicles” may help make our roads safer, we must continue to work with our partners in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and the Departments of Transportation in each state to educate the public. We ask that you join us on the road to zero to end roadway fatalities. We all must do a better job of promoting a very simple concept – members of the public must recognize the responsibilities they carry when using our roads. With the FMCSA, NHTSA and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, the FHWA is an active member of the Road To Zero Coalition and hopes you will be too.
        Please help us put the brakes on fatalities, because any roadway fatality is too many.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Dynamic Message sign installations one of approved projects in August letting

Dynamic Messages signs will be installed on northbound and southbound K-7 near 43rd Street and Parallel Parkway in Wyandotte County. 
The installation of Dynamic Message Signs, cameras and radar detectors in the Kansas City Metro Area is one of the approved projects in the Aug. 23 KDOT letting.
Dynamic Messages Signs will be installed on northbound and southbound K-7 near 43rd Street and Parallel Parkway, as well as on eastbound I-70 in Wyandotte County. The project will also include closed circuit cameras and radar detectors to be placed at various locations along I-435, K-10 and I-35 in Johnson County. The message boards and cameras will assist the Kansas Department of Transportation in fulfilling their mission in the KC Metro Area. Capital Electric of Kansas City, Mo., is the prime contractor on the $927,887.44 project.

To see all of the projects in the August letting, click here Here.

Monday, September 11, 2017

#IAMKDOT: Ciro Chavez

This month’s #IAMKDOT feature is Ciro Chavez.

Ciro began his career with KDOT as an Equipment Operator Trainee at the Lakin Subarea in southwest Kansas in October 2015.  He earned his CDL in December of 2015 and transferred to the Garden City Subarea in April of 2016.  He was then promoted to Equipment Operator in April 2016 and transferred to the District Paint Crew in July of 2017.

When Ciro is not at work he enjoys several outdoor activities including four wheeling and fishing. He is a music fan, a son and role model.  Many would also describe him as a fighter and survivor.

Prior to his employment at KDOT, Ciro was an EMT but he never thought he’d be the one to call 911.  Last year, he was involved in a head-on collision. His recovery may have taken several months, but he’s here to tell his story. And his story is one of 20 stories that will be shared from people telling why traffic safety is so important to them.

The four-week series begins this Wednesday and will continue until Oct. 10. Please read Ciro and everyone’s blogs that are part of the Put the Brakes on Fatalities Day safety campaign that focuses on reducing all types of traffic fatalities. Whether you are in a vehicle, on a bike/motorcycle or walking, the goal is for you to safely get where you are going.

#IAMKDOT is an illustration project that recognizes KDOT employees who work hard to keep Kansans moving. This series also serves as a reminder for travelers to slow down and remember that underneath those neon vests are individuals with families, friends and hobbies waiting for them at home.

Do you know a KDOT worker that deserves recognition? Nominations are open! Email today to get started! 

Thursday, September 7, 2017

KDOT celebrates 25 years at Kansas State Fair

State fair: The 2017 Kansas State Fair marks the 25th consecutive year KDOT has participated in the annual event to help educate and serve the public. This year’s fair will run from Sept. 8-17 and attracts about 335,000 attendees annually.

KDOT Employees unload supplies this week that will be used for the duration of the State Fair.

Records show that KDOT had a booth at various times until 1976. In 1993, Anita Helt, former Chief of the Public Affairs Office, thought it was important for KDOT to have a presence at the state fair again. Informational Specialist Kim Stich in Topeka and Senior Engineering Technician John Wiens in the District Five Office worked together the first year and have been working on it together ever since. 

In this photo from 2010, KDOT employees unload supplies from the dump truck that would be used for the 10 days of the fair.

The first two years, Wiens drove a minivan up to pick up supplies for the booth. That quickly was increased to a dump truck to hold up to 120 cases of state maps, thousands of promotional items and various brochures. It takes six to 10 KDOT staff up to three days to unload the supplies, set up backdrops and prepare for visitors.

KDOT's booth has been in four different locations in the Eisenhower Building on the fairgrounds. Every year, KDOT employees work to organize all the supplies, set up the back drops and set up the tables.
The first two years, Wiens drove a minivan up to pick up supplies for the booth. That quickly was increased to a dump truck to hold up to 120 cases of state maps, thousands of promotional items and various brochures. It takes six to 10 KDOT staff up to three days to unload the supplies, set up backdrops and prepare for visitors.
The KDOT booth has always been in the Eisenhower Building, but it has moved to four different booth locations. It started as a 10-foot by 10-foot booth with little storage. Boxes of supplies had to be brought to the booth each morning. After several years, a safety booth was added and the booths moved to a 20-foot by 15-foot location with storage included behind.

During those 25 years, five Governors of Kansas have served as well as five District Engineers in District Five. The times may change, but the commitment to the Kansas State Fair remains strong. 

KDOT employee John Wiens, in center in green shirt, accepts

a 15-year participation certificate from State Fair staff in 2007.

KDOT employee Pancho Smith talks to people stopping by
the KDOT booth in 2016.
“Over these 25 years, operating the KDOT Kansas State Fair booth has become a proud tradition of District Five,” said District Engineer Brent Tierstriep. “Numerous District staff members, ranging from Shop Mechanics, Engineering Technicians, Equipment Operators, various office staff to District Engineers have manned the booth to interact with the public, represent the agency, answer questions and help people learn about KDOT.”
Stich agreed with Tierstriep. “Bottom line - our KDOT booth is successful because of all the dedicated District Five employees,” she said.

For more information on the fair, go to

Flashback to 1993
While 2017 is the 25th consecutive year KDOT will participate in the Kansas State Fair, many significant events and pop culture moments took place in 1993:

uTy Warner USA launched the first Beanie Babies that created a national craze.

Modern technology was developing with the introduction of the Pentium microprocessor by Intel and the birth of the World Wide Web was born at CERN. 

The Waco siege on the compound belonging to the religious group Branch Davidians by American federal and Texas state law enforcement and U.S. military occurred.

Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

For the first time, Islamic Fundamentalists bomb the World Trade Center.

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is signed into law by former U.S. President Bill Clinton.

uBlockbuster hits included “Jurassic Park,” “Mrs. Doubtfire,” “The Fugitive,” “The Firm” and “Sleepless in Seattle.” Other popular film favorites included “Free Willy,” “The Sandlot,” “Hocus Pocus” and “Groundhog Day.”

Average costs at that time - a gallon of gas, $1.16; a movie ticket, $4.14; a new car, $12,750.00; a loaf of bread, $1.57; and tuition to Harvard University, $23,514.00.

KDOT employees Bob Grand and Sunny McElheny work at the fair booth in 1993. KDOT is
celebrating 25 years of serving and educating Kansas State Fair attendees.