All Thompson School District high schools will participate in the seat belt challenge
By Jessica Maher, Reporter-Herald Staff Writer
Hundreds of hands in the Thompson Valley High School gym Friday morning shot up when Kaley Germer asked who in the bleachers was sitting next to their best friend.
Who would be lost without their best friend? More hands.
“I know what it’s like to lose a best friend and I don’t want anyone else to go through it,” Germer said.
Just more than a year ago, Germer lost her best friend Alexa Johnson in a crash on Interstate 25. Alexa, a 19-year-old Loveland High graduate, died after being ejected from her truck and thrown more than 100 yards.
Alexa’s father, Tad Johnson, has photos that the Colorado State Patrol took of the truck after the accident. In them, Germer recognizes the way she and her best friend would always ride around in the truck. The seat belts would be fastened so the alarm wouldn’t sound, but they’d sit on top of them.
Johnson has initiated a seat belt challenge among local high schools and has enlisted Alexa’s friends to help spread the word about what is a near-certainty.
“If Alexa had been wearing her seat belt, she’d be alive today,” said Johnson, who founded the nonprofit Alexa’s Hugs.
Every Thompson School District high school is participating in the seat belt challenge, which started last year without students knowing about it. That’s when those affiliated with Alexa’s Hugs conducted an unannounced observation at each school as cars left the parking lot at the end of the day. They counted how many people wore seat belts.
The percentage of those not wearing seat belts ranged from 20 to 30 percent at the schools.
“People think that it’s cool not to wear their seat belt or that their friends won’t think they’re cool if they do,” said Thompson Valley junior Larisa Loebe, who was friends with Alexa. “It’s kind of disturbing, seeing how many kids we’ve lost.”
At a follow-up observation at the schools this spring, Johnson wants to see much different results and has incentives in place to make sure that happens. There’s $1,500 at stake: $500 will go to the school with the greatest improvement in seat belt usage; $500 to the school with highest overall usage and $500 to the school that produces the winning public service announcement on seat belt safety.
The winning PSA will also be broadcast on Comcast for the month of June, Johnson said.
“One school could win it all,” Johnson said. “We wanted that competitive-feel.”
Scott Pringle, deputy fire marshal with the Loveland Fire Rescue Authority, said he supports the mission of Alexa’s Hugs, which also distributes “hugs” that wrap around seat belts as a reminder to buckle up.
“From my point of view, anything that can be done to increase the usage of seat belts for any age group is a great thing,” Pringle said. “I’ve seen first-hand the difference that a seat belt can make during a motor vehicle crash.”
Alexa’s family and friends have first-hand experience as well, and Germer credits it with saving her life. Five months after Alexa died, Germer was in a serious crash. The officers told her that if she hadn’t been wearing her seat belt, she would have died.
The education effort and challenge is one that Alexa’s friends and family say she would have been proud of.
“If she were here and it was one of her friends that was lost, she’d be here leading it,” Johnson said.Read the Reporter Herald article