Local family hopes to raise seat belt awareness during Click It or Ticket campaign –
Story and photos by Patricia Beech –
The Adams County Safe Communities Coalition mobilized their annual “Click It or Ticket” campaign on Friday, May 26 by positioning the twisted metal wreckage of a Jeep on courthouse square in West Union.
According to event coordinator Debbie Ryan, the blue 2003 Jeep Wrangler, anchored to a flat-bed wagon, was brought in to serve as a stark reminder about the importance of wearing seat belts.
“Seat belts do save lives,” Ryan said, while presenting a “Saved by the Belt” award to 16-year-old Peebles High School student McKenzie Swango, who survived the May 5 accident that mangled her vehicle and left her seriously injured.
Swango’s grandparents, John and Suzanne Huffman, accepted the award on behalf of their granddaughter, who had an orthopedic follow-up appointment at Cincinnati Childrens Hospital on Friday.
Ryan said the “Saved by the Belt” award was created to identify individuals whose lives are saved or whose injuries are significantly reduced because they were wearing a safety belt or were protected by an air bag and a safety belt at the time of a crash.
In addition to honoring responsible drivers, the award provides documented evidence of cases where safety belts made the difference between life and death.
Swango’s life-altering accident on May 5 left the teen severely injured. She suffered a broken collarbone and at least one broken rib, her lungs were bruised and she had contusions (bruising) around her spine and neck, she also sustained a fractured wrist and thumb that required surgery, and later was found to have fractures in her facial bones and a broken nose, and multiple facial and eye lacerations requiring many stitches caused severe swelling that left the PHS athlete almost unrecognizable.
McKenzie’s mother, Amy Huffman-Swango, called her daughter “a very lucky girl” and credited her survival to “the hand of God and a buckled seat belt.”
McKenzie admits that she never gave seat belts much thought, and would often neglect buckling up for short trips to town.
“It got to the point where I thought it couldn’t happen to me,” she said. “A few days after the accident, while I was in the hospital, I realized I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t had my seat belt on – there’s no doubt it saved my life.”
McKenzie’s mother said she was shocked by conditions at the accident scene.
“Nothing can prepare you for that, it was horrific, but McKenzie was snug as a bug behind that seat belt – it was tight against her. There is no doubt it saved her life. It scares me to think what could have happened if she hadn’t taken that extra few seconds to buckle up.”
While the experience has been emotionally wrenching for the Swangos and their extended family members, Amy says she hopes some good will come of it.
“One thing’s for sure, my girl has a story to tell, and I hope it will speak loudly to anyone who thinks that wearing a seat belt is not important.”
McKenzie’s brother Bryce appears to be her first convert.
“What happened has already changed her brother’s mind about seat belts,” Amy said. “Bryce never would wear his seat belt, but he was at the accident scene trying to get his sister out of that jeep. It had a profound effect on him, so now he buckles up.”
There has been an outpouring of support for McKenzie and her family from friends, teammates, and even rival schools – Lynchburg, Fairfield, West Union, and Manchester.
“It’s been amazing,” Amy says, “I just hope when they think of her they think, ‘I need to buckle my seat belt’.”
McKenzie agrees with her mother.
“I hope when people see my Jeep they realize it can happen to them, and I hope they will take a couple of seconds to fasten their seat belts, because it could save their lives just like it did mine.”