FORT LEWIS, Wash. - Brandy Kessler's husband went out with some friends in Seattle. He left the pub after four drinks, feeling OK to drive home. But when his cell phone fell to the floor, he leaned over to pick it up, not realizing traffic had come to a standstill.

His pick-up truck slammed into the back of a car - tossing it into Interstate 405 traffic, where it was hit by two more cars. One of the passengers, a mother, died as a result of her injuries.

Kessler's husband, a caring man with a once-clean record, was convicted of vehicular homicide. Four years after completing his sentence, the Kesslers still remember the experience as they try to put their lives back in order.

"It doesn't go away, no matter what people think," Kessler said. "It's a lifetime sentence."

Kessler told her story to about 15 family members from the 555th Engineer Brigade on June 15. Her passionate message to not drink and drive, hit hard as family members listened in silence. Tears filled Kessler's eyes.

Kessler, a Washington State Patrol trooper, was working with Fort Lewis' Command Maintenance Evaluation and Training Team on a new program to inform family members of the importance of safe driving with focus on seat belts, road rage and driving under the influence.

The 555th Engr. Bde. was the first family readiness group to receive the Family Member Driving Safety Awareness program.

"I felt it was important to include the training as it will serve as a reminder to families to have fun but be safe while doing so, especially in regard to seat belts and car seat installations," said Erin Tarpley, the unit's family readiness support assistant.

Unit family members asked several questions during the briefing about child safety seats and seat belts.

"You don't need a seat belt until you do, and when you do and you don't - it's too late," said David Tomblison, a COMET driving training instructor.

He said that a 180-pound person, traveling in a car at 60 mph, hits the steering wheel at 3,500 pounds of force. That force could break a sternum, which then pierces the heart or lungs. To someone not wearing a seat belt, a 3,500-pound body can be tossed around in the car hitting, and possibly killing, other passengers.

The odds of getting in a crash are always 50 percent, regardless of one's luck.

"Is it going to happen tonight'" he asked. "You don't know, do you' Maybe it is, maybe it isn't, but is it worth gambling'"

COMET and the Washington State Patrol hope to reach every family member on Fort Lewis with the Family Member Driving Safety Awareness Program.

"We're willing to go to them any place and any time," Tomblison said. "It's at no cost to them, and we provide our own equipment. They just need to provide a willing audience."

For more information about the program, contact David Tomblison at 967-0603.

Kelly McGrath is a reporter with Fort Lewis' Northwest Guardian.

Page last updated Fri June 19th, 2009 at 19:09