Alexa’s Hugs mourns with community, encourages safety

Saturday wrapped up ‘Child Passenger Safety Week’ across the nation

By Dana Rieck
Reporter-Herald Staff Writer

In the past 10 days, five people lost their lives on roadways in the Northern Colorado region.

And for Loveland resident Tad Johnson, his heart breaks every time he hears the news.

“We grieve so deeply when there is a fatality,” he said. “We grieve for the family, we grieve for their friends, we grieve for the community.”

Tad and his wife Jona Johnson run Alexa’s Hugs — an organization they founded to honor his 19-year-old daughter, Alexa Johnson, who died in a rollover accident on Feb. 10, 2013, near Longmont.

Saturday wrapped up Child Passenger Safety week, put on by Safe Kids Worldwide. The week, in Tad’s words, is all about making sure children are properly restrained during every car ride in the right seat for their size.

“You know, it’s something that we do every day, but it’s also something we launch out with everyone else to say ‘Hey, this is the week to get your car seats checked and make sure your seat is correct,” he said. “… Once we take care of the littles, that gives us an opportunity to talk to parents about buckling up every time, too.”

Tad and Jona’s organization offers year-round car seat services including installation lessons and new car seats to families for a donation that equates to a fraction of the retail price.

Tad wants each parent knowing how to properly install a car seat and buckle a child in — that way, they can pass that information along to another family.

Chris and Katie Jackson took advantage of this service Tuesday in front of the Johnson’s Loveland home. They received two new car seats — one for 3-year-old Logan Jackson and another for their son 1-year-old Cyrus.

The family moved from California to Loveland about two-and-a-half years ago.

Chris Jackson, left, gets a high-five from Tadd Johnson, right, after Johnson taught him to install his child’s car seat on Tuesday outside Johnson’s Loveland home. Johnson and his family started a nonprofit, Alexa’s Hugs, after his daughter was killed in a car accident. They encourage seat belt use and vehicle safety and now they are also helping folks learn proper car seat installation and fitting to keep little ones safe. Later, they received instruction on installing a rear-facing seat, too. (Jenny Sparks / Loveland Reporter-Herald)
“It’s amazing to me that we came out here to Colorado and there are people who actually look out for each other,” Chris said.

This car seat awareness campaign, along with Alexa’s Hugs seat belt message, came at a painfully relevant moment for Larimer County as Jared and Genevieve Sommervold died after being thrown from a vehicle on Interstate 25 — their 2-year-old daughter, Aurelia Sommervold, survived in her car seat.

They were not wearing their seat belts.

“I think that parents overlook their own safety sometimes,” Jona said. “They are so concerned about their child being safe, but they don’t realize that that concern needs to extend not only to themselves but everyone in the car.”

Jona said an unbuckled person becomes a threat to everyone else in the car, especially when it comes to children.

“Everything in the vehicle is moving around inside during a crash, the biggest threat to that child is the unrestrained adult,” Jona said.

On Sept. 17 Alexa’s Hugs began their annual high school campaign that encourages peer-to-peer education in order to increase seat belt awareness and usage. The campaign reaches schools in both Weld and Larimer counties.

Loveland police Chief Bob Ticer spent some time with the high school students at Medical Center of the Rockies on Saturday as they brainstormed ideas to get the word out to their classmates this year.

Tad and Jona hold this campaign preparation event in September so their high school students can plan for teen driver safety week — which will be Oct. 16-22.

“From the Loveland Police Department perspective, enforcement will be a huge priority in our organization to make sure people are buckled up,” Ticer said. “So our campaigns and these educational efforts will go hand in hand to increase seat belt use.”

The campaign also begins and ends with observations conducted at the exit of each school’s parking lot — Tad and Jona get a snapshot of seat belt usage rates before the campaign during the fall and then after it in the spring.

Jona said so far baseline observations at 13 different schools illustrated that about 79.8 percent of drivers and 60.7 percent of passengers are wearing their seat belts.

Tad added that the campaign typically takes those numbers into the mid 80s by spring.

“That is moving the needle,” he said. “I am going to give them all the resources and all the tools and all the material that they need and I tell them ‘I want you to build me something spectacular — any way you want it.'”

Jona then talked about observing seat belt usage at the schools and hearing of the crash that killed the Sommervolds, who were both science teachers in the area.

“What occurred to me when we were out doing our observations is the number of staff at all of the schools leaving the parking lot unbuckled,” she said. “Sometimes we even see bus drivers unbuckled. … But the staff leaving the schools unbuckled — you know, the kids will see those things — the kids need them, we all need them and we want them to be safe.”

Tad said the most important component of the campaign is that efforts are being made and success has been observed.

Ticer echoed those sentiments.

“I am 100 percent supportive of the Johnsons’ program and I think what they are doing to encourage peer to peer education …. is a great start — it’s been known to work throughout the nation,” Ticer said. “I think we will see a lot of success out of that program.”

Even so, the Northern Colorado region mourns this week for the five people who lost their lives in car accidents.

“Unfortunately, just by nature, it’s the fatalities that get covered,” Tad said. “You know, you don’t hear as often about the crashes where people walk away because they were wearing their seat belts. But we get to hear those stories of survivors all the time.”

Read the Loveland Reporter Herald article

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