Up and Down El Rio Blanco: Buckle up

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A parent of a young driver told me she thinks young drivers should see images of the damage caused in a car accident in order for them to understand the possible consequences of not buckling one’s seatbelt when in a vehicle. I agree, as vivid images motivate me to buckle up.
One of the hardest parts of photojournalism is taking those kinds of pictures, yet it’s even harder for me to write about the consequences, especially when it involves someone young.
Personally I remember pledging to wear my seatbelt at all times before it was the law and before my daughter was born in 1983. I admit not always keeping my pledge over the years but rarely have I broken it, especially in the past seven years, because I have seen the consequences.
Vivid images appeared in my mind earlier this week when someone asked me if I had heard about the condition of a teenage girl, who rolled her car and was ejected from the vehicle. Even though the person asking the question said the girl was going to be all right, I could not get the images out of my mind, triggered by the word “ejected.”
I will never forget my wife answering the phone in the early hours of Oct. 8, 2005, telling me our niece had been in an accident and was ejected from the vehicle. I remember scrambling to get dressed and trying to prepare myself.
I will never forget walking into the hospital and seeing my younger brother, his eyes red from crying and hearing him tell me, “She’s dead, Bob, Natasha is dead,” my brother said before hugging me.
I will never forget seeing my niece’s lifeless body on a gurney in the emergency room.
I will never forget calling my daughter and telling her what happened to her cousin, yet not being able to hug her, and I will never forget my mom, who God willing, will celebrate her 88th birthday Oct. 7, telling me with tears in her eyes, “The last thing my hita said to me was, ‘Happy birthday, Grandma, I love you.’”
This is very hard for me to write and I’m sure it will be difficult for my little brother to read, but we both know the message needs to be shared again and again: Never forget to hug your children, tell them you love them and always wear your seatbelt.