Real reward at 'Saved the Belt' ceremony is saved lives

May 26, 1993|By Traci A. Johnson | Traci A. Johnson,Staff Writer

State police in Westminster gave six people certificates yesterday for wearing seat belts during recent accidents.

But the seat belt gave them something a little more valuable.

"I was rewarded because it saved me," said Kathleen Suther of the safety belt that restrained her when her car was knocked into an oncoming vehicle while trying to make a left turn off Route 26 in January. "I think the award is more symbolic than anything."

State police sponsor the "Saved By the Belt" campaign to recognize people whose diligent use of car safety features has set examples for other drivers.

"We have found that an effective occupant restraint program has two elements, enforcement and public awareness," said 1st Sgt. Steve Reynolds.

"It's good to put faces and people to the program so you're not just talking about statistics. You're talking about human beings."

Lt. Roy Neigh, the Westminster barracks commander, briefly detailed the accidents of the six people who received the awards during the 15-minute ceremony.

A medical problem caused Romaine Reifsnider of Keymar to pass out last month behind the wheel of her Dodge Caravan, which struck a mailbox on Francis Scott Key Highway.

"I remember coming into the town of Keymar for a couple of miles, and then after that, nothing," Ms. Reifsnider said. "They say I had a clogged artery in my heart.

"I wasn't driving that fast, they tell me, not much beyond a drift, but the seat belt probably saved me from a lot of bruises. It just shows the public that [a seat belt] does work. We're living proof."

Tricia Mendigorin of Finksburg was hospitalized for more than a week after her car, which was stopped at a railroad crossing on Route 30, was knocked into a passing train. She was seven months pregnant at the time.

"It angers me that even after this accident, I ride on the streets and see children standing up between the seats or playing around in the back seat," said Ms. Mendigorin, 19. "The parents don't take it seriously."

Her son Nicholas, 2, who also received an award for being in a child restraint, played with a Trooper Bear, the stuffed mascot of the state police Teddy Bear Patrol.

Despite all the seat belt success stories, Ms. Mendigorin said, people may not change their habits.

"It's sad to say, but [while] some may listen, others are going to do what they want to do," she said.

Michael Kane of Finksburg and Broady Whitlock Jr. of Westminster also were honored at the ceremony.

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