Luther Hires delivered a clear message to South Effingham High School students Monday morning.
A retired police captain who is now the coordinator of the Coastal Area Traffic Enforcement Network, Hires urged the students not to put their parents through the same heartache he felt 25 years ago when his son Bill died in a traffic accident while under the influence of alcohol and not wearing a seat belt.
“Please don’t do to your parents what Bill did to me,” Hires said. “Don’t make one of us have to come knock on (your parents’) door. In my 40-year career, I’ve knocked on too many doors.”
Hires told the story of the Friday evening that his son, after getting off work, had a few beers and got in a car with friends. He said the left rear tire blew out, and the car hit an embankment and went “end over end.”
Bill, who was thrown from the car, was taken to the nearest trauma center. However, two days later, “the family was told their first-born child was brain-dead,” Hires said.
“One of the things that hurts the most is that I was already in law enforcement and I was already heavy into (traffic safety) education, and here I didn’t get my own child properly educated,” he said.
To drive home his point that rollovers are among the deadliest types of motor vehicle crashes, Hires showed the SEHS students a rollover simulator. The simulator will be at Effingham County High School Tuesday.
The Effingham County Sheriff’s Office and Governor’s Office of Highway Safety partnered to provide the simulator, which rotates a pickup truck body in the way it would flip in a rollover crash. Dummies sitting in the truck bed were repeatedly thrown from the pickup.
“That’s about as real a demonstration as you can get without having the actual thing,” said ECSO spokesman Detective David Ehsanipoor.
“I am not here to entertain you; I am here to educate you,” Hires told each group of students. “This is what happens to real people in real crashes in real life.”
While some people might associate traffic deaths typically with high-speed crashes, the simulator demonstrates a vehicle rolling over at only about 35 mph.
“We’re not talking about an 80-mile-per-hour crash or anything like that,” Hires said. “We’re talking about average speeds. As you could see, it doesn’t take much.”
Hires asked the students several questions about driver and passenger safety. Pointing to a pickup, he asked, “How do I safely transport my family of four in this vehicle?”
Some students responded, “You can’t or, Get another vehicle,” before Hires got the answer he wanted to hear: “Make two trips.”
He also posed the scenario of three students traveling in a pickup that seats two people. He asked where the third person would sit, and several students answered honestly, “In someone’s lap.”
After hearing that — an answer he said he knew he would get — Hires urged the students to make smart decisions. He said he doesn’t know why his son “made those two decisions that Friday evening” to drink alcohol and not wear a seat belt.
“The decisions you make often times affect innocent people,” he said. “You have to make good, quality decisions. No one can make that decision for you.
“Do it because it will save your life, not just because it’s the law.”