Angela Hefter and Stephanie Gutierrez spoke to Dryden employees about texting and driving. Jacob Hefter was Angela Hefter's son and Gutierrez' boyfriend. He died when the engineer of a Metrolink train was texting and failed to take steps to avoid a head-on collision in 2008. (NASA/Tom Tschida)
› View Larger Image Regardless of why an accident happens, one thing is unmistakable – the affects can have catastrophic consequences not only for the person going through it, but also for that person's friends, family and co-workers.
That's one of the messages from the Dryden Safety Day March 13 where four personal accounts of three accidents brought home the event's theme of "I never thought it would happen to me." The personal loss and sacrifice of the speakers and their families, friends and co-workers hit home for many Dryden employees.
Texting while driving is a distraction that has caused numerous accidents, but guest speakers Angela Hefter and Stephanie Gutierrez of the Jacob Hefter Foundation put a face on a Metrolink tragedy that happened on Sept. 15, 2008.
A Metrolink engineer failed to respond to numerous attempts to contact him to avoid a collision with an oncoming freight train. The engineer's attention was on texting rather than his duties, which ultimately resulted in Jacob Hefter's death and that of 24 other people and injuries to an additional 135 people.
Jacob Hefter was Angela Hefter's son and Stephanie Gutierrez' boyfriend. Jacob Hefter was on his way to see Gutierrez aboard the Metrolink when the accident happened. The women recounted a harrowing 24 hours before they learned that Jacob Hefter was seated near the front of the train and had perished in the accident.
Gutierrez explained that texting is the number one way that many 18-to-24-year-old people communicate. In fact, an average of 109 texts are sent and received in a day and that adds up to about 3,270 texts a month. That was true of the engineer of the Metrolink train who was texting continuously during his shift and prior to the accident.
The distraction ultimately resulted in a collision where the freight train plowed 50 feet into the Metrolink's first passenger car – where Jacob was seated so he could be one of the first off of the train to see his girlfriend.
"Ambulances were lined up as far as I could see. It was the longest, worst day of my life. It dramatically changed and shattered my life," Gutierrez said. "I am beginning to come to terms with it. I was forced to grow up. Jacob was a rock and soft spoken. He was a true leader, kind and he loved life."
Angela Hefter said there have been rippling effects from Jacob's loss that led to health and economic challenges for the family. However, Jacob's memory lives on, as the family started the Jacob Hefter Foundation to honor him and remind people that the text can wait until people are safely at their destination.
"We all have a choice and a power to make the right choice," Hefter said.
For more information on the foundation: http://www.jacobhefterfoundation.org/
Aaron Rumsey describes a decision he made as a teenager that resulted in an accident that continues to cause him pain decades later. (NASA/Tom Tschida)
› View Larger Image People don't always make the best choices and Dryden Human Resource specialist Aaron Rumsey explained how one split second decision as a teenager nearly cost him the ability to walk.
Rumsey was getting ready for school and planning to take tests just three days before his 19th birthday. A friend who had just purchased a new motorcycle stopped by and asked him to go for a quick ride around the block. Rumsey accepted.
His friend reached speeds of up to 160 mph, then slowed to about 70 mph when his friend failed to negotiate a turn and the back end of the motorcycle slid and crashed. Rumsey didn't have shoes or a shirt on and he suffered three crushed vertebrae in the accident. He was told he would never walk again.
"It changed my life. In a split second a bad decision can change the rest of your life," he said.
He progressed from a wheelchair to crutches to canes. He now walks, but he lives with pain every day from his decision.
Keynote speaker Gary Norland explained the impacts of poor safety decisions for himself, his family and his company. (NASA/Tom Tschida)
› View Larger Image The final and most intense presentation of the morning session began when featured guest speaker Gary Norland stepped up to the podium.
Norland was a maintenance electrician about 20 years ago when he was investigating a power line that was shorting out. It was the end of the day and the man known for his attention to safety made some decisions he would not usually tolerate about his equipment and procedures. The result was an accident so serious that his family and friends cried during recent interviews recalling Norland's accident. That short film was shown before Norland began his talk.
As he progressed with a test on a power line, he leaned over the bucket rail of the lift truck to stretch his back. He felt a sharp pain and he heard a buzzing sound in his right ear. He had touched what should have been a de-energized power line with his right earlobe. Every muscle and organ in his body convulsed and contracted and his heart stopped. He collapsed, fell back into the power line and hit it a second time with the back of his head. Fire and electricity shot through him and exited from 15 places resulting in electrical burns to more than 37 percent of his body.
The fact Norland survived to tell his tale is a miracle and to this day, he said he has not come across another person who has lived through the type of accident he had.
Norland suffered permanent brain and spinal cord damage from the high voltage electrical trauma and was told he would never walk again. He has had more than 50 surgeries following the accident and has regained 40 percent use of his legs. His harrowing injuries had a ripple effect not only on him, but his family, coworkers and the community.
"It touches everybody around you for the rest of his or her lives," he said.
Norland said it is up to every employee to be safe and to watch out for each other, as about 96 percent of accidents are the result of human error.
There is one fact that is undisputable about accidents – "someone is going to suffer if you get injured," he said.
As a man who had coached his kids' sports teams and been a part of their lives, Norland was unable to do much with them for many years. "They were out of college before I could do things again," he added.
Recalling the accident he said, "My life changed forever in less than a second. The consensus was I was not going to live."
He believes there were many factors that led to his accident.
"I lost my focus. I was focused on the weekend and not on the job," he said.
Impatience was another contributing factor, which led him to using a truck with a bucket that wasn't insulated, shortcuts that had him working without protective gloves and a failure to double-check that the line wasn't live, he added.
When people take shortcuts, they are training the next generation to do the same and do not show a good attitude about the importance of safety everyday.
It all adds up in another way as well – the injury to Norland has cost his company more than $2.5 million altogether.
Norland concluded, "Safety is a decision you have to make all day long."