Thursday, September 13, 2018

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.


  1. Wow...Chris! What a powerful piece. We farm and my husband and step-son, like your dad, rarely wear a seatbelt. I will be sharing this with them. Thank you for taking the time to share this agonizing story.

  2. This post is so hard to read because I literally cannot stop crying. I am so sorry for your loss. Seat belts save takes seconds to click your seat belt in place. Likewise, it can only take seconds for the unthinkable to happen.

    I'm so sorry...

  3. I am so sorry for your loss.
    The names and faces of people who have passed because they didn't wear their seatbelts just flashed through my mind. Such a sad conclusion that didn't have to be.
    My grandson has to be told repeatedly to put his seatbelt on. He wants to take drivers education to get a learners permit. I told him that the day he wears his seatbelt continuously without having to be told is the day hrs mature enough to drive.
    May God bless your family.��

  4. Very powerful! As difficult as this must have been to write, thank you for sharing. I am sure this emotional story will hit home for so many.

  5. Wow. So well written, the imagery is overwhelming and brings emotion out like I was there with you, thank you for sharing and I'm sorry for your loss. -T

  6. I'm in tears reading your story. Thank you for having the courage to step up and share your heart breaking story!! I hope this will be a lesson learned for those who do not see the importance of wearing a seat belt!! My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family!!

  7. Chris, I know words are no solace for your loss. Old habits are hard to break. His contemporaries probably did not place a high value on wearing seatbelts and this may be why some folks still shun seatbelts. I've been regularly wearing a seatbelt for the last 30 or so years and my kids have grow up with the habit and now they always wear their seatbelts when driving. I think it is something that must be instilled in an individual. The earlier the age, the better.

  8. So sorry for your loss. I don't wear my seat belt on the passenger side up front very often, but this just made me to change that. However, bring a big person, sitting in the back, the seat belt is so tight on me that I can't breath. So don't know what I can do about that.

  9. God be with you & your family!! Being a former insurance adjuster and having to handle casualty claims, I can relate to your statements. Many of my insureds and others would of lived also....if only they had of "buckled up"!! There is nothing you can do now, but go forward and with faith, Gods help & time will ease your pain. Know that others care and have you in our prayers. My father committed "suicide" in 1999....I share in your loss!

  10. Chris, there’s not a day goes by that I don’t think about and miss your dad. All the guys on the job enjoyed being around him, and they all miss him too. So sorry for your and your family’s loss. What a tragedy that could have been easily avoided...if only. Kirk Cornelius

  11. My son was in a car-semi wreck nine years ago and was not wearing a seat belt. He was ejected from the car and suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury. He has been in a wheelchair ever since. God bless you and your family.

  12. Chris, I am very sorry for the loss of your father. Thank you for sharing the details of an accident that had to be so difficult to write. I hope and pray that everyone who doesn't always wear their seat belt and who reads this today or hears about it will change their habit of not wearing a seat belt to not only always buckling up but also promoting the same for all family members and friends. After getting into an automobile or truck, hearing the click of a seat belt should occur as often as hearing the sound of the motor starting. Thank you again and may all the good memories of you father always be with you and your family.

    Larry Emig

  13. I've heard so many excuses about not wearing a seat belt. I've been told of the "dangers" of being trapped in a vehicle in a crash but so many more people die from not wearing one than do wearing one. My cousin was one that had her belt fastened behind her (to stop the dinging) and only wore the shoulder strap. She was on her phone (we believe texting but no official report of that), went off the edge of the road, overcorrected and rolled two and half times. She was ejected and the vehicle came to stop on its roof. Her two year old son was in his car seat in the back. He was able to get out of the seat and was standing beside the Explorer when the first people arrived on scene. He had blood coming from his head so he was life flighted to Stormont Vail. It turns out he only had cuts, scrapes, and abrasions from the glass and the car seat straps. My cousin, on the other hand, wasn't as lucky. She passed away immediately. She was only 37 years old and left a 2 year old and a soon to be 8 year old. If she had her seat belt on correctly, there was a good chance she could have survived this crash. I tell everyone that seat belts keep you in the seat, where you are supposed to be. Thank you for sharing this Chris.