By Tippi Rasp Staff Writer
On July 23, 1995, Pete Norwood had been an Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper less than two months and still in the probationary period of his new job.
But he remembers the events of the night like it was yesterday. In his mind, the event signaled the beginning of his career.
"It was a day I'll never forget," Norwood said recalling the first child fatality traffic crash he ever worked.
Kevin Pruitt Jr., 18 months, was killed when the pickup he was riding in left a county road near the Garfield and Grant county line and struck an embankment. The boy was strapped into a car seat, but the seat was unsecured in the bed of the pickup. An 18-year-old woman, Tina McGowan, also was killed.
Norwood, recently promoted to lieutenant and now a public information officer at headquarters in Oklahoma City, said the child died that night 10 years ago "simply because of negligence." Alcohol was involved, and the man driving the pickup was convicted of two counts of negligent homicide. McGowan's one-year-old child also was in a car seat in the bed of the pickup but was not hurt in the wreck.
But Norwood has seen children come away unhurt from serious accidents because they were properly restrained. Child safety seats reduce injury by 71 percent for infants less than age 1 and by 54 percent for toddlers between 1 and 6 years old, according to statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
"I've seen firsthand they work," Norwood said.
But children don't make the decision about whether or not they ride in a car seat, he said. Parents do.
"Please do not drive without that child in a seat," Norwood said. "Don't risk a child's life."
It's not just a parent's responsibility to make sure a child is properly restrained it's the law. Norwood said Oklahoma Highway Patrol's fine for failure to properly restrain a child is $32, and the citation is mandatory. There is no warning.
Beginning Nov. 1, the city's fine for failing to properly restrain a child is increasing from $25 to $50, and it can cost up to $94 in fines, court costs and other fees for violators.
From July 1, 2004, to July 30, 2005, Enid Police issued 146 citations for failure to properly restrain a child, according to numbers released by the city clerk's office. The revenue generated from those citations was more than $3,300. Starting Nov. 1, the added revenue of the increased costs will be turned over to Department of Public Safety to be used to promote the use of child safety restraints.
Tommy Davis, Enid Police Department patrol officer, said police don't have a huge problem with residents not using child restraint systems, but anyone not complying is risking serious injury to their child.
"Kids can end up with brain damage," said Davis, who formerly was licensed to properly install child safety seats. Davis said parents a lot of times don't get the straps tight enough, or they buy used seats at garage sales that are broken or have been recalled.
Bill Presley, child safety advocate and member of Garfield County Safe Kids Coalition, said parents many times think they have the seat properly installed, but statistically 75 to 80 percent are not installed incorrectly, according to NHTSA.
Mike Benway, a local insurance agent and member of Safe Kids Coalition, said making sure seats are properly installed and used is one of the most important things parents can do for the safety of their children.
"It's lifesaving," he said.
Norwood was only about three miles away when he was called to the scene of the July 1995 wreck, and he said he won't ever forget the feeling he had driving up on the scene of the crash.
He said some troopers work 20 years and never have to work a child fatality crash.
"The worst thing you can see as a patrolman is a child hurt in an accident," he said.
And many of those injuries can be prevented with proper child restraint use, he said.