KISS seat belt
program Sunday

Tim Love gets 'Saved by the Belt' certificate

September 28, 2000
Seeley Swan Pathfinder
Seeley Lake, Montana

Tim Love credits the simple act of fastening his seat belt to saving his life in a recent accident here. Above is a photo of his Forest Service vehicle after a collision with a semi-tractor trailer.

A KISS program will be held in Seeley Lake on Sunday, October 1 from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. at the Fire Department. KISS will give a free check of all children's safety seats and belts. A few infant car seats will be available at the low cost of $15.00 each. If you wish to know more about the infant seats, a sample seat is on display in the lobby of the Seeley Lake Elementary School or call Alan Jeans at 677-3360 or Lonie Hutchison, Coordinator of the Missoula Traffic Safety Task Force at 406-523-2880.


"Survivor - Saved by the Belt" Award Program

by Donna Love


Tim Love, Seeley Lake resident and District Ranger of the Seeley Lake Ranger District, received a "Saved by the Belt" Certificate of Recognition Award on Friday, September 22 from St. Patrick Hospital and the Montana Highway Patrol. The award was presented by Tim Monzon of the Highway Patrol at a luncheon at the Grant Creek Inn in Missoula.

Love survived a crash that occurred on Wednesday, August 30 on Highway 83 just north of Seeley Lake when a semi tractor-trailer swerved into his lane to avoid hitting a vehicle attempting to turn right off the highway. Love was driving his Forest Service vehicle at the time of the wreck. He was Lifeflighted to St. Patrick Hospital where he underwent six hours of repair surgery on his left arm and spent eight days in the hospital with cracked ribs and a bruised lung.

Love said when he received the award, "I wouldn't be here if it weren't for the simple act of buckling my seat belt."

Four other recipients from Western Montana also received the Award. All were wearing a safety belt at the time of a vehicle crash and the use of the safety belt prevented them from sustaining critical or fatal injuries.

The first recipient was Robert Curran of Missoula, who was seventeen at the time of his crash. Curran is a track star of some notoriety. He took first place at State last year in the 400 meter event. His crash occurred when he was returning to Big Sky High School after going home for lunch. He reached down to fiddle with his car radio and lost control of the car. It flipped several times. He survived because of his seat belt and the only injuries he received were glass cuts on his hands when he crawled from the wreckage. His mother, Donna Curran, accepted the award on his behalf because Robert is now enrolled in the Marines.

Also receiving the Award were Cheryl Bennett, who survived a crash on Highway 93 at the intersection of Blue Mountain Road on January 20, and Jessica Neumayer and five year old son Michael, who also survived a crash on Highway 93 near Lolo. Jessica's husband and one year old daughter were killed. Jessica, still on crutches, offered a few emotional words. She said, "No one expects it will happen to them."

The Award Program was a cooperative effort of the Safe Kids Project of Healthy Mothers - Healthy Babies, the Montana Department of Transportation, Montana Department of Justice (Highway Patrol), and the Montana Department of Health and Human Services. "This is the first year of the award and St. Patrick plans to make it an annual event," said Bobbi Perkins, Injury Prevention Specialist at St. Patrick Hospital.

At the luncheon, several speakers spoke on the importance of wearing seat belts. Brad Pickhardt, an M.D. in the emergency room at St. Patrick Hospital, welcomed the recipients of the Award and congratulated them on their use of seat belts.

Tom Monzon, Montana Highway Patrol, spoke on safety seat statistics. Monzon said, "The biggest thing that prevents a fatality in a wreck is the use of seat belts. Recently, Montanans are using their seat belts 74 percent of the time. Coinciding to this, fatalities are down by seven percent.

Furthermore, Monzon said, "The Montana Highway Patrol is trying to get away from the use of the word "accident" to describe a car wreck or crash." That term implies that no one was at fault, but almost always someone was doing something they shouldn't have been doing. In other words, there is a cause and the person who caused the crash may not be the one who gets hurt.

Monzon listed the top four causes of car wrecks in Montana. The number one cause is careless driving. The second leading cause is speed. The number three reason for wrecks is failure to yield, and the fourth leading cause is alcohol. "In Montana," Monzon said, "alcohol related wrecks only constitute ten percent of all crashes, but they result in fifty percent of all the fatalities in the state." Jeff Zealley, Funeral Director at Garden City Funeral Home, spoke on his experiences as a funeral director. He said that just the fact that he was attending the award ceremony should be enough to make anyone wear their belt. "There are a lot of people I wouldn't have met if they had just been wearing their seat belt," Zealley said, and added, "I meet very few people who do wear their belts."

Zealley recounted that one of the first funerals he directed was for a father and mother of a two year old girl who were thrown from their car. They missed their daughter's first day of school, high school graduation, and wedding. They could have been at these events if they had been wearing their seat belts.

Zealley also told another story of an infant who was thrown from a vehicle after being taken out of her car seat by the grandmother for just a moment to comfort her. He said those are the deaths that could have been prevented.

When Zealley hears someone say they don't wear a safety belt because they are so uncomfortable, he tells that body bags are uncomfortable too. If they don't buckle up, he reminds them that he'll eventually do it for them since even a casket is held in place by two safety belts in the back of a hearse.

Lonie Hutchison, Missoula Traffic Safety and Safe Kids Coalition Coordinator, spoke on the Montana Safe Kids Coalition. Hutchison has a license plate on her car that says, "Buckle Up." She said it has an impact on people and loves it when she sees people read her license plate and reach for their belt.

"Just thirty years ago," Hutchison said, "Montanans used their seat belt only eight percent of the time." A program in the early 1980's called "Get Caught," which gave away certificates for free hamburgers to those caught using their seat belts, helped raise the rate to 32 percent usage. In the 1980's the seat belt law passed and seat belt usage jumped to 50 percent. It is now at 74 percent and Hutchison hopes to see it reach 100 percent usage. She feels that "common sense, education and enforcement" is the key to continued success.

Hutchison now works closely with KISS (Kids in Seat Belts and Safety Seats), saying that, "Child restraints are used incorrectly on 98 percent of all vehicles in Montana."

KISS is trying to correct that. They check children and infant car seats and safety restraints and teach parents how to safely buckle their children in.

Hutchison said that about one half of all car seats in Montana need to be replaced, citing old age, seats that have been in a previous crash, and incompatibility with the vehicle as the main reasons for this. She is also working to pass a law prohibiting anyone from riding in the cargo area of a vehicle at any time.

Greg Schieferstein, News Director for KPAX, gave closing comments for the Award Ceremony. He recounted a personal experience with the KISS program in which he and his wife attended a KISS event in the K-Mart parking lot in Missoula last year. He learned that he and his wife had placed their one year old daughter's infant seat wrong in their car.

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