Summit County: Got seat belt?
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Summit County sheriff’s deputy Rebecca Johnson whipped her badge out and marched toward a car full of girls leaving Summit High School Thursday afternoon.
“Everybody wearing a seat belt?” she demanded. But she was smiling, because she knew they all were.
The girls in the car, who included Lauren Thomas and Molly Murphy, the best friend and little sister of junior Lizzie Murphy who was killed in a rollover accident earlier this month, are some of her many co-conspirators in her crusade to equip Summit County with a healthy number of roadside and vehicle mounted seat belt signs.
The death of Lizzie Murphy, a happy-go-lucky 17-year-old who was not wearing a seat belt when she swerved to avoid hitting a deer on Highway 9 north of Silverthorne last month and crashed her car, has inspired the community to action.
Johnson is leading the charge to ensure no other driver shares Murphy’s fate.
“This is not going to happen up here again,” Johnson said. “There is no reason why this should ever happen again.”
Her immediate plan was to design and place signs – the county was without a single seat belt reminder posting – that would speak to younger drivers and pay tribute to Murphy’s memory. The result was a vertical sign printed with the words “got seat belt” and a pink heart bearing Murphy’s initials and the years she was born and died.
“I hope it changes our kids behavior,” Johnson said of the sign. “Lizzie was really loved by everybody, and maybe these signs will be a reminder. Wherever you’re going in the county, you drive by one of these things and I want it to be an automatic thing to reach down and see (if your) seat belt’s on. And if it’s not, put it on.”
When Johnson first came up with the idea in the days after Murphy’s death, even she couldn’t have known how fast it would become a reality. In about two weeks the Colorado Department of Transportation pushed through an approval on the signs, which will appear in strategic roadside locations and at all the schools in the county. A modified version of the sign that works with state and federal regulations, but still bearing the “Got seat belt” slogan will also appear on state highways throughout the county.
Meanwhile, support for the project has poured in from the community. Local tradesmen have volunteered their time, supplies and skills to design, print and erect the signs, Summit Stage officials and Sheriff John Minor agreed to post the signs on their vehicles and Summit County residents and nearby supporters have donated thousands to back the project.
“It’s just a team effort,” Johnson said.
The first signs went up at the high school Thursday afternoon, installed, appropriately, by Murphy’s friend Lauren Thomas and 15-year-old sister Molly.
It is unclear how many signs will ultimately be installed, but Johnson said the project will likely be finished by the end of the summer.
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