Monday, October 10, 2022

Missing out on many years of memories

Chief Chris Head

My name is Chris Head and I am the Deputy Chief with the Liberal Police Department in Liberal. I have been an officer for 24 years, but I didn’t start my career off in Liberal. 

I started off in a small town in Oklahoma. The town was small enough that it didn’t have much crime to speak of, but we would get the occasional drunk fight or drug arrest just to keep things interesting. Due to the town being in a rural area, we would also get called to help the Oklahoma Highway Patrol with accidents on the highways that led into town.

One early morning, around 0500 hours, I got a call from our dispatch asking me to travel a few miles into the county to assist in a roll-over accident with unknown injuries. I was informed the vehicle was in the ditch, but not much more information was given as I can recall. I was also told that there were no Troopers in the area, and I could be alone for some time. As I mentioned earlier our town was small and didn’t warrant 24-hour coverage, so I jumped out of bed and headed out the door within a few minutes.

Police officers go on calls all the time where the questions can’t be answered until they arrive on the scene to assess the situation. This is especially true on calls such as this one. Questions like, “How many people are in the vehicle?” “How many of them are hurt?” or “How long will it take an ambulance to arrive to help me if needed?” Since I was a very inexperienced officer at this time, I’m sure all these questions and more were going through my mind.

When I got to the location of the accident, I noticed the ditches were overgrown with trees, briers and all sorts of undergrowth. After only a few minutes I noticed a vehicle stopped on the road, and I could see the taillights from the damaged vehicle near the bottom of the ditch. I also saw an unknown pedestrian frantically waving me over and pointing to the accident location. I got out of my patrol car and ran to the vehicle. It was at that time I noticed the driver, a young man, was laying on the ground several feet away from the crumpled-up pickup.

As I got closer to him, I saw he was unconscious and not breathing. I recently attended a first responder class and started CPR. While working on the young man I could tell that things were not looking good. He was unresponsive but from time to time would sit up and exhale deeply before laying back down only to stop breathing again. While this was happening, I never felt his pulse come back, and I continued on with the CPR.

While working on him I could smell the odor from the mixture of the gas from his vehicle along with the dirt that was scattered all around. I can still remember how tiring it was to give CPR for what seemed like 30 minutes before an ambulance arrived. I also remember my legs and arms cramping and being out of breath. I was relieved when I saw the ambulance pulling up, knowing I finally had some help.

Almost as soon as the paramedics got to us, I saw another person running down the embankment toward us. It was the driver’s father. As you can imagine he was extremely emotional after seeing his son and tried to get to him. In doing so he was interfering with the paramedics. This caused me to have to physically pull him away from his son in order to give the paramedics room to work. His dad threatened to hit me and even tried to punch me at one point, understandably so. It took me and a couple bystanders a few minutes to calm him down so he could think clearly.

While dealing with the dad, the paramedics were able to get the driver into the ambulance to transport him to the hospital in a neighboring town. After the ambulance left, the scene cleared out quickly and I remember looking at the pickup and thinking the damage was not that bad, and I believe he would have walked away if he had his seat belt on.

Due to the area being so small, word gets around, and it wasn’t long before I found out who the driver was. I also found out that his wife had just had a baby girl, and that he was on his way to work that morning. As far as why his father showed up, I found out they worked for the same company and one of their coworkers saw the accident and called him. He came there with the intention of checking on his son, but found that he was fighting for his life.

A few years ago, I was back in my hometown and discovered that the driver’s baby girl had grown into a beautiful young lady and recently had gone to prom. I was shown her prom photos and I couldn’t help but think about her dad, and how proud he would have been of his little girl. There was absolutely a void in those photos where he should have been.

Just about any officer who has been working the road long enough will have a similar story. These memories may fade and some of the details lost, but they don’t go away fully. From time to time something may trigger them, and you’re put right back there, in the moment surrounded by the sights, sounds, and smells. Some officers may be reminded of a tragic accident after smelling the scent of a deployed airbag. For me, it’s the combination of the smell of gas and freshly disturbed dirt.

People get behind the wheel and don’t buckle up for one reason or another. But there is little doubt about it, if you ask that little girl who lost her dad early that morning, she would tell you there is no excuse not to wear it. 

If you don’t want to wear it for yourself, wear it for your family members who love you, and who want you to be with them as they make memories. Memories like playing in their first baseball game, catching their first fish, graduating high school, or even going to their first prom. 


Chris Head is the Deputy Chief with the Liberal Police Department


Friday, October 7, 2022

Prescription drugs contributing to roadway deaths

By Sheriff David M. Groves

Sheriff David Groves

Returning from a meeting a few years ago, I decided to take the scenic route to enjoy a leisurely drive back to the office on some of our back roads. The only vehicle I encountered was a motorcycle, which I noticed wobbling as it approached me. 

Moments later, the motorcycle left the pavement and crossed a grassy ditch, throwing the operator to the side of the road. I immediately requested dispatch send emergency medical and rescue personnel to the scene as I assessed the rider, who ultimately died there on the side of the road. 

It was later determined prescription drugs contributed to the crash and death of the rider, who was someone I had known for years.

Although the situation I experienced involved an impaired operator leaving the road and entering a ditch, the operator could have just as easily crossed the center line striking an oncoming vehicle, having a life-long impact on an innocent driver.

Driving under the influence of prescription drugs continues to pose a significant threat to those traveling our roadways. The American Automobile Association (AAA) reports prescription drugs are the most prevalent of all drugs found in drugged drivers involved in fatal crashes at 46.5%, and that percentage has continually increased since 2005.

Alarmingly, but not surprisingly, teens new to driving are also getting behind the wheel impaired by prescription drugs, which they often obtain from family or friends, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.

As community safety leaders, it’s not only critical to recognize the issue of prescription impaired driving for the seriousness it is, but to also take steps to keep our roadways and citizens safe.

When given the opportunity to visit with high school students about the dangers of drugs, it’s important not to solely focus on street drugs like meth and heroin, but because of the ease in obtaining prescription drugs, to also stress the dangers of abusing them and sharing with friends.

Additionally, because this life altering public safety issue significantly impacts those in our community, law enforcement leaders can take advantage of the Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) Training Program coordinated by the Kansas Highway Patrol.  Although the training requires a commitment on the part of both the administration and the officer seeking certification, the benefits to the citizenry and motoring public are worth the investment. 

If staff shortages create a hurdle in having a DRE on your agency’s team, hosting Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement (ARIDE) Training will significantly boost the ability for officers to recognize and handle drug impaired drivers when they encounter them on the side of the road.

Finally, because in most parts of the state DRE’s are scarce - especially for small and rural agencies - I encourage law enforcement administrators with DRE’s on their team to capitalize on already existing partnerships with neighboring jurisdictions and offer up their DRE’s assistance when able to do so.

David Groves is the Sheriff in Cherokee County


Thursday, October 6, 2022

Lifechanging decision that changed everyone’s future

By Patty Schalk

You have probably all heard that wearing your seat belt could save your life in a vehicle accident. From personal experience, I would say many people have developed a good habit of buckling up every time they are in a vehicle. Some are just the opposite and rarely, if ever, buckle up.

January 1997 - my family had a life-changing vehicle accident that forever affected each and every one of us. No, we were not all in the vehicle that rolled over on the turnpike leaving Topeka. It was just one of us, my brother.

I’m not exactly sure of all the details as it happened 25 years ago. I do remember my parents, his wife and myself rushing to the hospital upon hearing my brother had been in a single car accident. He and his passengers were all thrown from the vehicle. I don’t remember if the passengers were wearing seat belts, but unfortunately, I know my brother wasn’t for sure. All the passengers survived and were able to walk away with minimal injuries. But my brother’s head was injured when he was thrown from the car, causing a traumatic brain injury. 

He was in a coma where he stayed for two weeks until my parents made the decision to remove his life support. We were prepared to say good-bye, but when the machines that helped him breath were turned off, he started breathing on his own. Since he had been in the Army, he was able to be transferred to a VA traumatic brain injury facility in Iowa where he spent the next four months recovering. His wife had not been to see him since the first few days in the hospital. Shortly after the accident when she learned of the extent of his injuries, she filed for divorce. When he was able to leave the hospital, my parents brought him home to live with them.

His life and ours had forever been changed. My parents’ lives had changed from being empty nesters for a few years with a new home and looking forward to new adventures, to being primary care givers to their son. He had to learn how to do the very basic tasks of independent living again. His brain injury affected his vision, speech, left arm movement and his left leg.

I can safely say that my parents have earned lots of feathers for their angel wings in heaven. They gave up their lives to take care of my brother. Not only did it affect them, but it affected me, my children and every family activity we have done for the last 25 years. We have to worry - is where we are going handicap accessible? Can he get in and out when stairs are involved? How do we get the wheelchair in and out of the car? Who is going to push him or help him?  Is handicap parking available?  I can tell you that quite often the handicap parking is full, so we have to get him out and situated, then go park somewhere else while he waits on us.

It's not all been difficult, because we have learned that you either laugh or cry, and often, we do both. Humor came to our family as a way of coping. Often my brother, who is fairly independent in spite of his disabilities, will get into situations where he will need rescued. One year while camping he tipped his scooter over in a ditch and was yelling “man down!” until some other campers came to his rescue. We still use that phrase liberally. There is never a dull moment with him as he is very determined to get where he wants to go one way or another, regardless of the impact to anyone else. Another common phrase we often say is, “gravity is on your side,” because he seems to fall quite often. Many times, these falls require outside assistance from the local fire department to get him up.

Dad passed away last year, and Mom continues to be his primary caregiver. It is getting difficult for her to meet his daily needs, of entertaining him, getting him to appointments, taking him shopping, etc. We are now trying to figure out how alternative care and support for him will look in the future.

The point of my story is that your decision to not wear a seat belt may or may not cost you your life. Something you may not have considered is that it could cause you to have severe life-altering injuries that change not only your future, but those of your friends and family – forever.

I hope you will choose to buckle up.


Patty Schalk is an Applications Developer Supervisor at KDOT in Topeka.



Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Why I remind myself to stay alert while driving

 By Tim Potter

Tim Potter

It was a good thing I noticed that the vehicle several car lengths in front of me was starting to slow down.

That was my first cue to stay alert.

I was on a straight four-lane divided highway in Reno County on a recent afternoon cruising at the speed limit, 65 mph. Right after I spotted the car slowing down ahead, I noticed a motorcycle closing in behind me.

The motorcycle was going noticeably faster than my car and the car directly in front of me and a third car to the left and ahead of me.

I was in the outside lane, already slowing to keep distance from the car directly in front of me. The motorcycle shot around me, then suddenly veered in between me and the decelerating car ahead. That car was now flashing a right turn signal as it approached a side road.

I realized the motorcyclist was not going to slow enough in time.

I heard the sudden concussion of the motorcycle crunching into the car bumper.

In my mind’s snapshot, the motorcyclist bounced and rolled in a churning swirl of hair, jacket and jeans -- but no helmet. Right in front of me.

I don’t consciously remember commanding myself: “OK! Avoid hitting the fallen motorcyclist by pulling to the left right now!” But that’s how I reacted.

I realized afterward that if I hadn’t been alert to what was ahead, then behind, then in front, I might have run over the motorcyclist after he fell and plowed into the car he hit.

I veered away to the inside lane in time to avoid striking them, then pulled back right, slowing down onto the shoulder. I stopped on the grass, pressed the emergency flashers, grabbed my cell phone and race-walked back 100 yards to the crash scene. As I strode, I called 911 and gave the few details to the operator. She said she was already talking to someone else and could let me go.

I immediately felt relief when I noticed the motorcyclist was sitting up and off the highway. I had been mentally prepared to give, or help with, CPR -- thinking he might have been knocked unconscious and might not be breathing.

He appeared maybe a little dazed. He was bleeding, but not profusely, from his scalp, his hair partly matted in blood. I seem to recall gashes around his eyebrow, on his hand. He was trying to punch in a number on his cell phone. His motorcycle, which didn’t look all that smashed considering the impact, was on its side and pouring a stream of gasoline onto the highway pavement.

He stood up, saying he needed to tend to his motorcycle. But I quietly urged him to sit down, telling him that he might be in shock. It was wickedly hot, the sun searing.

I filled out a witness statement for a Kansas Highway Patrol trooper as emergency medical workers treated the motorcyclist and placed him on a stretcher.

Later, I confirmed from the trooper’s crash report that the motorcyclist wasn’t wearing a helmet and that, as the report stated, he was “following too closely to slow down.”

For me, it was a sobering reminder: the importance of staying alert, watching the speed and everything in front and behind, not following too closely and being ready to take an evasive move in a flash.

As the troopers say: Things happen fast.


Tim Potter is a Public Affairs Manager for KDOT in Hutchinson


Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Never more thankful for child safety seats

Kristen's two little girls were in their child safety seats in the back seat when the car was hit.

By Kirsten Byrd

 It was a normal, beautiful day in August 2015. We had just gone shopping in Winfield and were on our way home to Udall. My husband was driving, and I was in the passenger seat. Our two little girls, aged 2 and 5 months, were in the back seat.

My husband noticed a sheriff’s car sitting on the side of the highway, so he slowed down to pass by. As we did, a truck that had been following us going an estimated 75 mph ran smack into the rear end of our 4-door car.

We were in shock, but the first thing we did was check to see if each other and our daughters were ok. Our 2-year-old exclaimed, “there is ice everywhere!” It was the rear windshield all over her and our 5-month-old baby.

As scary as it was, everyone, including the driver of the truck, was ok, other than some bruises and whiplash. I have never been more thankful for the rear-facing infant seat my baby was in, and the forward-facing convertible seat my toddler was in.

We had several people stop to see if we were ok and to help comfort us and the girls. Thankfully the police officer was there to witness the whole thing and get emergency services on the scene quickly. We now have three girls, and the younger two are in child restraints. It will stay that way until they can safely ride without a booster or car seat.


Kirsten Byrd now resides in Independence where she works as a Management Information Systems Clerk for the Tri-County Special Education Interlocal 607.

Monday, October 3, 2022

Three seconds and Move Over Law

Lt. Tanner Blakesley's car was struck at full highway speed, which was propelled into
another vehicle that struck Lt. Blakesley and seriously injured him. 

Lt. Tanner Blakesley

By Lt. Tanner Blakesley, K28

I was a road trooper in the Topeka area for two years when I woke up in a ditch. The driver of the vehicle we had stopped was standing over me, asking me if I was okay. I realized I had been hit by my patrol car after a passing vehicle struck the rear of my car at full highway speed. Since that day, I have become a strong enforcer of the "Move Over Law."

That January was the first day I was training a new trooper. We had stopped a vehicle on I-470 in Topeka, and it became necessary to have the occupants exit their vehicle. I exited the patrol vehicle to help the new trooper with this task. I approached the driver's side of the vehicle, got the driver out of his car, searched him, and escorted him into the ditch.

During this time, several cars had not moved over. I diverted my attention from traffic and towards the new trooper while he had the passenger exit the vehicle. The next thing I remember is waking up in the ditch. I did not know what had happened. I was able to put the parts of my broken memory together after seeing the video from my patrol car cameras and talking to individuals at the scene. There’s nothing like seeing video of yourself launched off your vehicle's windshield into the air.

Three seconds after walking between the stopped vehicle and my patrol car, another vehicle hit the rear of my patrol car. The impact of my patrol car being hit propelled it into the vehicle I had stopped. Unfortunately, I was hit by the corner of the patrol car and thrown into the ditch. Three seconds later and my life, along with the driver of the stopped vehicle, could have been very different. Most likely, we both would have died that day because of a careless driver not moving over for emergency workers on the side of the road.

After waking up, I didn’t know just how bad I had been hurt. The new trooper checked on me first and told me not to move. I could see the new trooper was taking control of the crash scene. Luckily, he had managed to dive over the guard rail and escape serious injury.

Even though I knew I was hurt, I had adrenaline pumping through my body and got myself up and went up the ditch to help. I quickly realized my injuries were serious; I had to sit down and wait for more help. It would be four months before I returned to work, but I know I was lucky to be alive and lucky to be able to even go back to work.

Vehicles must Move Over or Slow Down for emergency vehicles and work crews not just because it is what the law requires, but because when a vehicle does not, it doesn't allow time for those in the way to react and try to get out of harm’s way. It's easy to become complacent when every day you see many cars not moving over.

Three seconds on one cold January day could have ended differently for several people because of one individual's carelessness and disregard of the Move Over Law. 

Lt. Tanner Blakesley is with the Kansas Highway Patrol


Friday, September 30, 2022

The night that changed our lives forever

Braden Woodson and his truck.

By Debbie Lee

It was a typical Monday evening in October. My son, Braden Woodson, had gone to his club wrestling practice at Lawrence Elite. He loved wrestling and over there he says the coaches and teammates were like family. Braden was 16 and a few months earlier, his grandpa gave him the Chevy S-10 he (grandpa) shouldn’t drive due to medical concerns.

Braden’s practice usually got done around 8 p.m. and he was home (in Perry) by 8:15-8:20 p.m. as it was just a quick trip across Highway 24.  When my phone rang at 8:30 p.m., I instantly knew something was wrong.  The voice on the other end was Braden, telling me he was hit by a semi.

Braden was traveling west on highway 24 and as he approached the intersection of highway 24/59, he realized too late that the semi driving south on highway 59 wasn’t going to stop at the stop sign. The two vehicles collided, and the collision spun my son’s truck around, so it was now facing east in the cornfield. 

He was able to get out of his truck and went for help. Had Braden been driving the Toyota Corolla he had before the truck, the outcome would have been more devastating. The impact would have decapitated him. Fortunately, he was able to get out of his truck and went for help at the church in Williamstown. The semi driver fled the scene.

I share our story for several reasons but mostly because Braden was wearing his seat belt and I believe the seat belt saved him from being thrown from the vehicle. 

Braden was a state qualifying wrestler and had intentions of wrestling in college.  These few seconds and the truck driver’s inattentive driving stripped Braden of the one thing that brought him joy.  He loved to wrestle, yet his back muscles are messed up for life.  After a year and a half of physical therapy, including dry needling (needles inserted into the back muscles and hooked up to electricity), he is still unable to enjoy wrestling. He was never able to be a returning state wrestling qualifier.

This was the night that changed his (and my) life forever.


Debbie Lee is the mother of Braden Woodson