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Rolling billboard spells out crash victim’s DUI warning

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Sally Palmer Dawley’s hand-printed warnings to drivers are taped to the rear window of her Ford F-250. And with slogans like “I survived – head-on crash – his DUI” and “Click it and live – I did,” Dawley admits to getting quite a few second glances. But what she really likes to see is a driver reach over, grab a seatbelt and buckle up. That’s what Dawley did 10 years ago this March when riding as a passenger on a school bus returning to Auburn along Foresthill Road after dropping off special needs students. Hawley , then working in the Mid-Placer Transportation Agency Office, was filling in as an aide on the Foresthill run. The driver had just said goodbye to the sixth and final passenger when a red pickup approached erratically and moved into the wrong lane. Dawley had buckled up out of habit moments before. “The driver said ‘Look at that truck,’ and then ‘Hang on,’” Dawley recalled. She remembers little after that as the truck slammed the school bus head-on. “I couldn’t move my legs and was in and out of consciousness,” Dawley said. “Then I spent almost a week in the hospital. It wasn’t until my daughter brought my 10-week-old granddaughter to see me that I burst into tears realizing I could’ve been killed.” Dawley’s major pain over the next weeks came from deep bruises and abrasions from the seatbelt that kept her from flying through the front windshield of the bus. The bus driver and driver of the truck also survived the crash. Dawley said the truck driver was charged with driving under the influence – shorthand for the charge is DUI – but received little jail time. A few years ago, Dawley got out her pen and wrote several bumper-sticker-style messages that she cut out and taped carefully on her back window to make sure they didn’t block her view. Laminated in plastic to last, some have spread to other surfaces on her trucks, letting drivers know: “Dear Lord, please find a cure for stupid” and “To be stupid and speed or not to be.” Three weeks ago, Dawley barely missed another serious accident when a two-car crash developed in front of her on Highway 49. Her truck had a side smashed in and she now has a new sign to go with the damage: “A stupid driver did this to me RU12?” it asks. Hers is a unique way of telling her story and Dawley said she has seen results. “People agree with it,” she said. “One lady behind me at a signal suddenly buckled up. That’s what I like to see.” Dawley’s message is one shared by law enforcement – particularly at this time of year. According to the California Highway Patrol, 950 people were killed in alcohol-related crashes statewide in 2009 and another 25,914 were injured. Last year, during the Christmas holiday, 22 people were killed in collisions around the state. Among the vehicle occupants killed, more than half were not wearing a seatbelt at the time of the crash. Drivers are being reminded by the Highway Patrol to always wear seatbelts, put children in appropriate safety seats, drive at a safe speed for a variety of road conditions and never drink and drive. “The holiday season is all about having good times with family and friends, and about sharing and giving,” said Commissioner Joe Farrow. “We want to make sure everyone enjoys their festivities and our goal will be to ensure they and their loved ones arrive at their destination safely.” The Highway Patrol was out in force during its Christmas Maximum Enforcement Period ending at 11:59 p.m. Sunday and will have a similar program next weekend for New Year’s. And Dawley will be doing her part as well, with a rolling billboard straight from the heart and pen of a DUI crash survivor. “It just takes one moment for everything to change,” she said. “As a grandmother, I’ve had tears over the thought of what could have been.” -------------------------------------------------- Teen drunk driving influenced by parents The Coalition for Placer Youth – a grass-roots organization in Placer County devoted to preventing youth substance abuse – is encouraging parents to be role models and not drink and drive. Kathie Sinor, coalition chairwoman for the group’s prescription drug abuse prevention committee, said how adults behave will be the model for how teens behave. “The holiday season is an opportunity to walk the talk about safe driving practices,” Sinor said. “If you want them to be sober drivers, you need to show how to celebrate the season without using alcohol or drugs.” Placer County Undersheriff Devon Bell has observed first-hand the important role of parents in setting the example for youth about driving impaired. “Regardless of whether you think your teens are watching and listening – they are,” Bell said. “There is no more important role model than the parent. In terms of risky behavior our teens note how we handle alcohol and it will be their template for the future.” The coalition offers free workshops for parent groups, educators and clubs on how to help teens deal with the modern pressures of drug and alcohol addiction. Workshops can be scheduled by contacting Shari Crow at (530) 889-7238 or going to coalitionforplaceryouth.org.