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Kirby: Don't let your car be a cop killer

Published January 31, 2013 10:20 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

One of the most indelible memories I have of being a cop is the face of the woman who lost control of her vehicle one snowy morning and hit me.

We had a fairly long relationship before impact. For the eternity of about three seconds, we maintained eye contact through the driver side window of her car. She was screaming. I was thinking, "This is gonna hurt."

Then — Pow! — I was spinning down the viaduct on my back, keys, flashlight, pens and .45 magazines rattling along behind me.

As I lay in the gutter collecting my thoughts and parts, the hysterical woman rolled down her window and sobbed, "Are you dead?"

I limped away from that one, but the woman's face is what I think about every time I drive past an emergency vehicle parked on the side of the freeway.

Last Sunday, a friend was struck under similar circumstances. Utah Highway Patrol Lt. Lee Perry was standing outside his patrol vehicle on Interstate 15 in Box Elder County when an out-of-control Toyota knocked him onto the shoulder.

It's Lee's third time getting whacked by traffic. He's wearing a leg brace and gimping around now, but he's doing better than the son of a friend.

Trooper Brent Shelby and I were cops together back when we were children. He was hit twice, including once by a semi that flattened his patrol car around him.

Both of Brent's sons, also troopers, have been struck in the past few weeks. One of them will require extensive surgery. During the recent storms, a total of seven UHP troopers were struck by vehicles traveling too fast for existing conditions.

Every time the news announces another one, those of us with family and friends working on the Highway Patrol start calling around to see who it was.

Lots of things about police work are scary. Chasing a murderer can be pretty alarming. I've done it. But I was a lot more nervous working accident scenes in the snow and knowing 500 more potential accidents were blithely headed my way at 50 mph.

But most cops will tell you the same thing. An armed bank robber trying to get away is far less of a threat than the average Utah motorist trying to get to work in bad weather.

You can shoot a bank robber who threatens you. But with motorists, even the criminally stupid ones, you just have to stand there and take it.

The volume of traffic on Utah's highways has gone up dramatically since I worked the other side of the windshield. Worse, today there are cell phones, texting and other things to aggravate an already short motoring attention span.

This isn't just about cops. People who can't slow down during horrible conditions don't just hit law enforcement. They'll do the same to firefighters, paramedics and incident management personnel. Hell, they'll run over you if you stop to help.

We pay these people to sort out the messes we make of ourselves when we should have been paying attention but weren't. The least we can do is stop hitting them.

If you can't do it for them, do it for yourself. The weather will eventually clear up on its own. A vehicular homicide charge won't.

Robert Kirby can be reached at rkirby@sltrib.com or facebook.com/stillnotpatbagley.