By RETIRED ARMY COL. NEIL MILES, 561st Regional Support Group,U.S. Army National Guard, Omaha, Neb. October 31, 2011
The dispatcher gave me the location as seven miles south of Alliance at the county line. I recognized it as a big curve on Hall Ranch hill. The dispatcher reported a vehicle had overturned, pinning the driver beneath it, and that an ambulance had been called from the volunteer fire station. I activated my red lights and siren and rushed to the location.
As I approached the scene in my patrol car, I could see a large vehicle on its top in the northbound ditch. A deputy sheriff also arrived as I bailed out of my unit. When we ran down to the car, all we saw was a hand sticking out from beneath it. The deputy grabbed the exposed hand and shouted to the person that we were there to help. The young man gripped the deputy's hand and would not let go. As we looked to the left, we could see fuel leaking onto the ground from the gas tank. The driver, a 14-year-old boy, was pinned face-up with only about two inches between his head and the car's caved-in roof.
We realized we had to get him away from the car before it had the chance to catch fire. We knew there was no way the two of us could lift the car and free him. The deputy stayed with him as I ran to my unit and retrieved a spade from the trunk. When I got back to the wrecked vehicle, I quickly dug a trench in the sandy soil beneath the driver as the deputy continued to console him and grip his hand. Once the trench was deep enough, we slid the driver into it and pulled him from beneath the car to safety. He cried as we freed him from what had been a death trap and the possible danger of being burned alive. In the distance, we could hear the siren of the approaching ambulance that would transport him to the hospital.
Once we got the vehicle removed from the scene, we drove to the hospital to check on the boy's condition. I interviewed him and his parents to complete my investigation. The interviews revealed that the boy had been home alone and decided to take the family car for a joyride. He was speeding when he lost control in the curve, went into the ditch and rolled twice and the car landed on its roof. Not wearing his seat belt, he was thrown through the driver-side window onto the soft sand, where he landed on his back. As so often happens in rollover accidents, he was ejected into the path his vehicle was rolling, and the car landed on top of him. Ending up well away from the highway, he was able to reach a piece of chrome door trim and flag down a passing motorist.
Although the car was a total loss, the young driver walked out of the hospital the next day with just bumps and bruises. The fact that he survived was purely a matter of luck. Most ejected motorists who wind up beneath their vehicles don't walk away.
So what about you? When it comes to seat belts, will you obey the rule or hope to be the lucky exception? If you roll the dice and lose, may come up short -- six feet short.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, occupants who are wearing their seat belt are 75 percent less likely to be killed in a rollover crash.