Mark Reynolds might have been another statistic 24 years ago had it not been for the persistence of his then-girlfriend.
She insisted Reynolds put on his seat belt while they were driving around south Oklahoma City. That day, Reynolds' vehicle was hit by another vehicle on Interstate 240 near Interstate 35.
“I had never worn a seat belt before, and tell you what, that made a believer out of me,” Reynolds said. “I felt my body be pulled and twisted there, and I guarantee you, I would have gone out the window.”
Today, Lt. Mark Reynolds works for the Oklahoma Highway Patrol and watches out for other Oklahoma drivers in hopes they don't become statistics.
“A lot of troopers, a lot of police officers, keep numbers of things they do in their career. I only keep one number and that's the number of times I have had to affect a family by telling them their loved ones died,” Reynolds said.
“That number for me is 26. Twenty-six times I have had to make notification, and it is the absolutely, positively worst thing I could ever experience in my entire life. I think I would rather be in a gunfight. It is life-altering and it's just so sad.”
Reynolds said most of the victims of fatal accidents he has seen were not wearing a seat belt.
“Seat belts won't stop every fatality, but they significantly reduce them. It depends on the nature of the crash and the collision. It's a percentage game,” he said.
Patrol officials have asked troopers to increase seat belt usage in their area by 5 percent.
A high-profile reminder of the importance of seat belts came earlier this month when Oklahoma City police officer Chad Peery died in a rollover wreck on Interstate 40 east of Shawnee.
Peery was an inspiration for many law enforcement officers and city residents. He was beaten and paralyzed after he tried to break up a bar fight in 2011. He continued working as a police officer, investigating cybercrime as he rehabilitated from his injuries.
A van carrying Peery, his four children and a caretaker who was driving rolled over April 14 after a tire blew out. Peery died of his injuries and everyone else in the van was injured.
Only the caretaker was wearing her seat belt. She had minor injuries. Peery and three of the children were thrown from the vehicle. All four children were hospitalized and since have been released.
Trooper Betsy Randolph, a patrol spokeswoman, said Peery's death has been tough on his fellow law enforcement officers who are devastated and cannot comprehend why he wouldn't buckle up himself or his children.
“He was an inspiration not just to Oklahoma City police but law enforcement across the state,” Randolph said. “But there is no way around the truth — they should have had seat belts on. Ultimately, Chad is their dad, and he should have been responsible for their safety and well-being.”
“We hope that something good can come from this. I think as a law enforcement officer, he would be OK with saying ‘learn from this.'”
Patrolling every day
Troopers on patrol look for crash causing criteria — unsafe speed, unsafe lane change, following too closely and distracted driving.
“We really focus on the things we know will save a person's life,” Randolph said.