Change Is Hard

…but change is certain.


The story continues

Some of you know I was in Washington DC last week, but do you know why? Long term readers might remember the story of my dad who was killed December 23rd of 2004 while slowed in traffic when he was hit from behind by a semi driven by a sleepy driver. I and other members of my family have been working on truck safety issues ever since.

Looking for change from our political leaders.

Last weekend the Truck Safety Coalition held our biannual Sorrow to Strength conference, where survivors and families of victims from across the country met, provided emotional support to each other, and became educated on the issues.

Saturday and Sunday we spent listening to each other and preparing for the meetings to come.

Working the halls of Congress.

Monday and Tuesday we spread out in small groups across Capitol Hill, talking to staff and members of Congress about what happened to us, and the solutions we want implemented in order to save lives.

It is hard but necessary work.

Some of us gathering before our first meetings.

Almost 5,600 people died in commercial truck crashes in 2021. That’s a 13% increase in fatalities over 2020. And over 146,000 people are injured every single year.

Obviously there is much work still to be done. To bring it down to a more human scale, let me tell you the stories of two women, each bearing the unimaginable consequences of the trucking industry’s drive for profits.

Sometimes the sheer size of government can make a person feel unimportant.

Alexandra is a young woman married only two years when she and her husband moved from Idaho to Atlanta where she planned to attend law school. Last November her husband was sitting at a red light when his vehicle was hit from behind by a semi. He is now paralyzed from the neck down and unable to do anything for himself. Alexandra and her mother-in-law have been taking turns sitting with him and advocating for his care in several hospitals and rehab facilities.

But our stories ARE important. My sister and me before her meeting.

She’s a strong woman, Alexandra. She talks about the crash, about the care she provides for her husband, about their impending move back to Idaho to be closer to family. But when she talks about fighting with insurance carriers and the almost $5 million in medical debts she and her husband now owe, she begins to cry.

We have to tell the world.

The minimum amount of liability insurance a carrier has to have is $750,000. That was set in 1980 and has never been increased over the more than 40 years since. Though there’s probably no amount of required insurance that would cover all of the medical costs for Alexandra and her husband, certainly they deserve to have their expenses covered. He deserves to get the best care and therapy available, and he won’t get that if they are on Medicaid.

He was sitting at a red light.

We all sit at red lights.

It’s OUR government, intended to work for all of us.

And then there’s Elise. Her four children were visiting their father in another state, driving to a relative’s house to enjoy summer fun in a backyard pool on a hot July day in 2020. Their dad slowed down entering a construction zone. The semi behind was driven by a man who was high on meth and fentanyl. He hit the family’s car going over 70 mph. It was pushed into the semi in front of them and then into the guard rail where it burst into flame. The children’s dad was pulled out of the car, badly burned. But no one could see the four children in the smoke and flames.

All four of Elise’s children died in that crash.

When I reflect on my life Dad’s death was pivotal.

Elise told her story over and over during our two days on the Hill. She calls herself a mother with no children. I witnessed her dissolve into tears, then take a deep breath and continue on to ask for automatic emergency brakes on all trucks. She does this, with courage, in memory of her children. The least we can do to listen.

More families, more grief, more sharing, more requests for change.

Starting the rule making process for automatic emergency brakes on trucks was part of the last infrastructure bill, but only for the biggest trucks, class 7 and 8. Smaller commercial trucks were not included, and we all know those trucks are buzzing around our neighborhoods every day.

Elise’s children were slowed in a construction zone. We all slow down in construction zones.

It takes a lot of walking, a lot of talking, a lot of LISTENING to make change.

We can listen to these stories and hundreds, thousands of similar stories and send positive thoughts and prayers. That’s nice. But what these two women really want is change. It’s what all of us attending the conference want, change, so that fewer people die and get injured in preventable commercial truck crashes.

But change is hard.

There are bills in the House and Senate ( For example, HR 2687 for raising insurance minimums, HR 1622/S 605 for underride protection on trucks) to make change revolving around several of our issues. But this session of Congress is wrapping up and in the new year we will have to start asking for bills to be reintroduced.

You can help by calling your Senator or House Representative when things heat up again. And you can count on me to let you know all about it.

Some members of Congress are listening. This is Rep. Bustos from Illinois.

Dad’s, and all these stories continue, forever in our hearts.

Miss you, dad. Watch over us as we push forward, OK?


Flight 93

We detoured, yesterday, from our drive to Washington DC, in order to visit the Flight 93 Memorial.

I recommend visiting in the late afternoon when the light is warm.

We had two phones, the car’s navigational system and a Garmin with us. Each provide different instructions. We ended up circling up and down and around the hills in which the memorial sits. It’s beautiful country but after about an hour of driving, always within 5 minutes of our destination, we were pretty frustrated.

Our first look at the Tower of Voices

Part of the problem is that there’s an old entrance that isn’t open anymore and some of our technical tools wanted to go there…and so we did. The other part of the problem is a distinct lack of signage for the new entrance.

Located on a small hill planted in wildflowers.

But eventually we made it, as the sun was starting to lower in a sky filled with big puffy grey and white clouds.

Eight columns holding the heavy chimes.

Our first stop was windchimes tower, dedicated to the 40 people on the plane that died September 11th, 2001 when the passengers put Flight 93 into the ground rather than allow themselves to be weapons aimed for the US Capitol.

There are 40 different wind chimes, each with a distinct sound.

The chimes are beautiful, but only play when the wind is at least 12 mph, and though it was getting breezy it wasn’t windy enough to hear more than one low tone.

Once in awhile there was a gust of wind.

Then we went on to the visitor center which is built into a huge concrete structure that draws you along that last flight path, and deposits you on a platform overlooking the final crash site of the plane.

Mapping the path of the plane.

It’s a beautiful field now, filled with wildflowers and birds. In the late afternoon light it glows.

The white is a tent left up after this week’s anniversary. The farm over on the hillside witnessed the crash.

We drove down to the lower area, and walked the pathway back to the wall of names. Along the way were some mementos in a space designed to collect them.

Lots of memories left on the wall.

The names etched into the wall were heartbreaking, as were the pictures there, and the flowers.

Always together, forever

We were visiting only three days after the 21st anniversary of the attack, so the flowers were freshly poignant.

We spent a long time wandering the grounds. It was so peaceful with hardly anyone else there.

Yet I couldn’t help but look back up at the visitor center, built along the flight path and imagine what it must have been like that day. What it sounded like, what it smelled like. What it looked like.

Also together forever.

There are photos, of course, of the aftermath. But I don’t think they convey the total horror that must have confronted the emergency workers when they arrived.

Hard to imagine this place as it must have been that day.

I imagine the field was a beautiful place before the plane dropped out of the sky.

Paying her respects.

And it’s a beautiful place again, a fitting tribute to the forty heroes of Flight 93.

Evening light comforts as another day slips away.

After I wrote this a friend provided a link to Sunday Morning’s piece on the Flight 93 National Memorial. It’s a short piece that will explain more about the tower and the site.


Never stop

Day one of our Sorrow to Strength conference was a success, but oh so emotional as the 30+ families each shared the reasons they were attending. Survivors relived their crashes, tears often streaking down their faces. Families of those lost did the same. No one was judgemental. No one was impatient as we let those emotions flow.

And at the end, when our large, sad and somewhat soggy family was all talked out, one of the volunteers passed out bracelets she had made. One for each person, placed into hands still holding damp tissue.

She chose the hummingbird, she said, because they never stop.

Just like us.