Ryan Chartrand

On Oct. 26, 2007, I witnessed something life-changing: I saw someone roughly my own age die from a car accident. Joseph received fatal internal injuries that night – injuries that potentially could have been prevented if he had been wearing a seatbelt.

I should begin by explaining how I ended up on a deserted sideroad off Highway 46 at the scene of an accident. I was writing a profile piece on a paramedic for a journalism class and decided to go on a ride-along with him. I did not expect to see anything major that day, maybe minor chest pains or a little blood – not a “Code Red” situation.

It seemed to be over as fast as it began. We arrived on the scene to find a 22-year-old male lying on the ground surrounded by firefighters. He missed a curve in the road and drove his SUV through a fence. The fence was a barricade to protect people from an approximately 35-foot drop to the ravine below. His car flipped before coming to a stop; the front bumper, hood and windshield were smashed in. He was ejected from the car upon impact since he was not wearing a seatbelt. The firefighters found him lying in the dried ravine and carried him back up to the road on a stretcher.

I watched in complete shock as a firefighter attempted to perform CPR. I will never forget how young he looked – I could not help but be horrified that this young firefighter was trying to save someone his own age. Afterward I realized the older firefighters let him perform CPR because they knew it was hopeless. The victim had such horrible internal injuries that blood came out of the breathing tube placed down his throat. The lead paramedic soon took over for the firefighters and hooked the victim to the heart monitor – a flat line went across the screen.

How could someone so young be dead? The worst part was watching his three friends, who were driving in a separate car, hear, “He’s been pronounced.” One of his male friends ran to the broken portion of the fence and collapsed to the ground. In that moment I realized how short life can be and to make use of every moment I have.

Although I have always worn my seatbelt while driving, it was just a subconscious act. Passing the “Click It or Ticket” signs on the freeway never had an impact on me until that day in October – a seatbelt really could save my life.

According to the California Office of Traffic Safety, in 2005, about half (352) of the 705 unrestrained fatalities would have been alive today if they had been wearing their seatbelts. One simple action that takes virtually no effort could have saved their lives. Next time you get into your car, remember to “click it.” Do it for yourself, and do it for Joseph.

Jessica Ford is a journalism senior and a Mustang Daily reporter and copy editor.

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