Airmen get 'street smart' on safe driving

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE -- Members of the Stay Alive From Education, S.A.F.E, program showed Airmen here the effects of not being street smart during preventative presentations on impaired driving May 1 and 2 at the base theater.

The purpose of the presentation "Street Smart" is to prevent bad decisions that lead to accidents and incidents, said Col. David Lyons, 52nd Operations Group commander.

"We can often walk an accident chain back," he explained. "We start from the accident and walk it back. Often we will find a place in that accident chain where there was a fork in the road, and you can say, 'Alright, this was the decision that drove all of the further outcomes of this accident. This is the decision right here that led to the accident, that lead to the death' - that's part of what we're getting at today ... learning from your mistakes; letting other folks make good decisions so we don't have to pay that price a second time."

As fire fighters and paramedics the Street Smart presenters, Joseph McCluan and Scott Neusch, know first-hand the results of poor choices when it comes to drinking, using drugs and not wearing seat belts. During the presentation, they showed the audience real-life accident images and took them through the all-too-familiar impaired driving scenarios they have seen.

In this case, the choices were driven by an audience member.

For the scenario presented, Airman 1st Class Scott Gilkey, 52nd Civil Engineer Squadron structural apprentice and volunteer assistant, drove to a party with no intentions of drinking and even offered his friend, who was drinking, a ride. However, he couldn't resist the temptations presented around every corner at the huge party. He had a drink and then another. He decided to call a taxi or get a ride home with a wingman.

A girl at the party text messaged Scott more temptations, which lead him to step into the vehicle and drive without buckling his seatbelt.

"People may be afraid of not being able to get out of their car if it's about to blow up or is launched into water," McCluan said of drivers who think their seatbelt will hinder their chance of survival. "Without a seatbelt, a driver could hit their head, become unconscious and burn or drown to death."

Scott drove a few miles before he read another text message on his phone and crashed head-on into another vehicle at 45 mph. The upper half of Scott's body and his phone launched through the windshield.

"When a car goes 45 mph, your insides are also moving at 45 mph," Neusch said. "When you're ejected from a vehicle, you have a 25 times greater chance of death."

In Scott's case, he was still breathing but with no chance of survival.

"Now," McCluan said. "It's time to look back at Scott's Air Force paper work to find his next of kin."

"Scott, who's your next of kin?"

"My dad," the Airman replied.

This statement hit home for the Airman who had been in accidents before but said he never thought about the worst implication - death.

"When they mentioned notifying my dad, it really hit home because I thought of them telling my dad, 'Your son was stupid; he drank and drove; he died in a car accident,'" Scott said.

With Scott's death, the scenario ended; however, the presenters had more to share.

Neusch and McCluan presented a new scenario in which they arrived on scene and knew immediately Scott wasn't dead.

"We don't have to check Scott's pulse or breathing because he is screaming," McCluan said.

The presenters extricated Scott from his vehicle to find him suffering major injuries to his spine and a collapsed lung. They used a needle to decompress his chest and a scalpel to cut an incision in his throat so hecould breathe.

A helicopter evacuated Scott to the nearest trauma center where doctors tested for further injuries with various needles, syringes and a catheter. Scott's condition was too critical for pain killers. He felt each needle prick, cut and tear.

The doctors cleared him of life-threatening injuries but found facial lacerations, a chest injury and a completely severed spine. Scott needs plastic surgery, dentures and chest tubes to fix his injuries. One of Scott's injuries is unfixable.

A severed spine can't be healed or repaired, McCluan explained.

"Scott wakes up to see his new reality in the form of a wheel chair." McCluan said. "His career in the Air Force, everything he has worked hard for in life, has come to a sudden stop."

Scott's career is done, but at least he left the scene with more than the other driver he hit.

"Remember the other car you hit; the driver didn't make it," McCluan explained to Scott.

After this, McCluan turned to the rest of the audience to ask how many people knew someone who died traumatically in a vehicle accident.

A handful of people raised their hands.

According to McCluan, the odds are that next year in an audience this size, approximately 400, people 20 - 25 more people will know someone who died traumatically.

"Stack the odds in your favor," he said to the audience full of Airmen. "Use a seatbelt; don't drink and drive; use a wingman; be a wingman. It's up to you to take this information and utilize it. We hope [everyone] takes the reality of this. It affects so many people, not just you."

The S.A.F.E program started presenting Street Smart to military members in 2005 as an effort to prevent needless injuries and deaths due to poor choices. For more information about the S.A.F.E program and Street Smart, visit http://www.safeprogram.com.