Officials urge Vermonters to buckle up
By Brent Curtis
STAFF WRITER | November 17,2012
STAFF FILE PHOTO
Vermont State Police conduct a checkpoint on South Main Street in Rutland in 2010. Law enforcement agencies from around the region will be staffing safety checkpoints Wednesday through Sunday next week.
It was during a holiday drive six years ago that tragedy struck Ed Ogorzalek’s family.
A flat tire sent the car carrying his brother-in-law and sister-in-law and his two nieces off a Maryland highway and onto its roof.
His nieces survived without serious injury but their mother died and their father spent eight months in an intensive care unit and suffers lingering physical problems to this day, Ogorzalek said.
And perhaps hardest of all to bear, he said, is the knowledge that the serious injuries and death could have been avoided.
“My nieces were in the front wearing their seat belts but my sister-in-law and brother-in-law were in the back so they didn’t think they needed them,” Ogorzalek told a roomful of reporters, police and emergency medical personnel Friday during the kickoff of a statewide “Click it or Ticket” campaign. “The impact on my family, which was left to pick up the pieces, is more than anyone would want to encounter. My car doesn’t move now until everyone in it is belted.”
The chief financial officer at Rutland Regional Medical Center was one of about 10 people who spoke Friday afternoon at the hospital where a press conference for the seat belt compliance campaign was held.
This year has been a particularly deadly one on Vermont highways where 70 people have lost their lives in 2012. By comparison, only 45 deaths had been recorded on the state’s roads by mid-November 2011, officials at the event said.
Of the 70 people killed this year, 40 weren’t wearing their seat belts, according to Ted Minall, a safety program chief with the Vermont Governor’s Highway Safety Program.
“As you all know, the holiday season is a great time to get together with loved ones and family and the worst thing that can happen is to suddenly lose someone,” Minall said.
While the overwhelming majority of Vermonters do buckle up, Minall and other officials at the event said surveys and checkpoint data indicated that 15 percent of drivers and passengers don’t use their seat belts.
Getting through to that minority has been a decade-long problem. Officials said the state has been locked in at 85 percent seat belt usage for the last 10 years.
“I’m tired of the excuses,” Regional Ambulance EMT William Mapes said. “I’ve heard people say they’re uncomfortable. Well, it’s a lot more uncomfortable after an accident. I’ve never once in 30 years unbuckled a dead person.”
Representatives from a number of law enforcement agencies, including Rutland Police Department, Rutland County Sheriff’s Department and Vermont State Police also emphasized the lifesaving value of wearing a seat belt.
“Your loved ones are depending on you to stay alive,” said Lt. John Flannigan, commander of the state police traffic safety unit.
To reinforce that message, law enforcement agencies from all over Vermont, including 40 municipal departments, 13 of the 14 county sheriff’s departments, town constables, state liquor control officers and Department of Motor Vehicle enforcement officers will be conducting seat belt compliance checks from Wednesday to Sunday next week.