Memorial Weekend - May 25, 2001

Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers will participate in the Combined Accident Reduction Effort with law enforcement officers nationwide this Memorial Day weekend.

"We have agreed to hold safety belt check points in conjunction with the CARE traffic safety campaign called ABC mobilization which stands for America Buckles up Children," said Trooper Pete Norwood. "This mobilization effort is the eighth wave of an enforcement blitz to target drivers who fail to buckle up themselves and their child passengers."

Norwood said there are 13 OHP troop headquarters in Oklahoma. Commanders from each location will coordinate safety belt check points in their respective area.

"Our highway safety division has purchased 15,000 T-shirts that read 'I was caught by the Oklahoma Highway Patrol' on the front. And on the back it continues with 'for wearing my safety belt,'" said Norwood. "The T-shirts are being distributed to troopers who will give them to drivers who are wearing safety belts when they go through their check points. It's a unique way to make people aware that safety belts could save your life."

Ten people died on Oklahoma's roads during the 2000 Memorial Day holiday weekend last year. None of them were wearing safety belts.

"We can't emphasize enough the importance of wearing your safety belt," said Norwood. "Not only is it the law but it could save your life, and this weekend we are going all out on enforcement to reduce fatalities in Oklahoma."

With the first summer holiday of the season, troopers anticipate an increase in the number of people on the roads and on the lakes.

"Within the last couple of weeks, three people drowned in Oklahoma," said Norwood.

All three victims were swimming in nondesignated areas without life jackets, one was under the influence of alcohol.

"They were swimming in dangerous areas," said Second Lieutenant Wayne Skrdla. "And they might have lived had they been wearing a personal flotation device or life jacket."

Skrdla said that a high percentage of drown victims were not using sound judgment.

"For instance, there are several cases when a swimmer will lose a beach ball or a raft and try to swim after it. They swim too far out in deeper water and quickly become fatigued," said Skrdla. "This is when they go under and never come up."

Jumping from structures such as a bridge or cliff is unacceptable, he said, and the Lake Patrol discourages floating on a raft without a life jacket if you cannot swim.

Two of last year's five drowning or boating deaths were victims who died while swimming. A third victim was a one-year-old child who was playing near a farm pond and was later found floating in the water. The fourth was a 23-year-old man who was wading into a river and was pulled under by the water's current. The fifth person died as the result of a collision with another vessel; the victim was thrown overboard and hit by the vessel's propeller.

The Lake Patrol issues a warning to those who drive personal watercrafts such as jet skis.

"We want these drivers to exercise care while operating these vessels," said Skrdla. "Make sure the area is clear of other vessels and stay out of the swimming areas. Use common sense while operating."

With an increase of boaters, careless operation of a vessel is more prevalent.

"We will have no tolerance for those who carelessly operate their vessel," said Skrdla. "Boaters need to stay away from the swimming areas, and we urge skiers to do the same."