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Southern Eyes

"What am I doing wrong? What else can I do?" I could do nothing but shrug as my coworker, Billy Hobbs, stood at the cubicle that surrounds my desk and asked those questions, his eyes brimmed with tears.

In a community like Thomson, everybody is friends with everybody and it's hard to hear bad news about anyone. When the news came about the Sheltons losing their son in a vehicle accident last Thursday and Billy had to write the details, it was more than he could handle.

It was difficult for everyone here. Angela (the advertising manager) brought up pictures on her computer of Justin Shelton at her daughter's wedding last year. The picture showed a group of young people, dressed up and having fun with big smiles on their faces. Our hearts went out to his parents and brother, now coping with the loss.

Justin was traveling the interstate en route to work when the accident happened. He was not wearing a seat belt -- the detail that brought the heart-wrenching questions from my co-worker. In his career, Billy has won several awards from the Governor's Highway Safety Council for his articles about seat belts, the proper way and importance of wearing them. Each time he covers a fatal wreck, Billy wishes he could go back in time and tell his message to those involved.

Please understand: I am not placing blame. Justin's death was an accident and a tragedy. I just want to remind others -- everyone -- to take 45 extra seconds and buckle their seat belt when entering their vehicle. Even if only one person gets the message, it could be one more life saved.

I've been to some of those accident scenes and have seen bodies that were thrown out of a vehicle. And I've known of so many incidents when a parent thinks because a child cries, it's OK to let him out of a car seat. Even if you are holding the child in your lap, the impact of a crash still takes over and the child is thrown.

I know this is an annoying habit to break. I rode almost a full year with a baby who screamed to the top of his lungs every time he was buckled in his seat and had to go anywhere. I swear, he took forever to catch on to the fact that he had to be buckled up. One time, when some people rode with us and questioned why I would be so mean, I had to explain that I loved him too much to let him out of his car seat.

No matter your age and how far you have to stretch that seat belt to get it around you, no matter if you are in the driver's seat, passenger seat or the back, please buckle up. It's not just a law. It works. I've seen it.

If you learn that lesson, Justin's death will not be in vain.

Web posted on Thursday, August 20, 2009

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