Lonn and Tye Meeks, who lost older brother in accident, tell TUHS students that driving mistakes have tragic consequences
Two brothers, Taft High graduates now working as CHP officers, know too well what it is like to lose a loved one to a car crash and they brought that firsthand knowledge to Taft High students in a pilot driver safety program Wednesday.
Officers Lonn and Tye Meeks recalled how their older brother, Forrest, died in a two-car accident on Taft Highway east of the canal in March 1997 when he was 23. It was a freak accident. Both cars got too near the center divider and the opposing car sheared off Forrest’s side mirror and sent it crashing into his head, killing him instantly, Lonn said.
Forrest was two years older than Lonn and they played sports together and shared a love of the outdoors.
“One single mistake can become a tragedy,” he said. “I was there when my father told my mother. To see the devastation it causes families. It’s not something that goes away,” Lonn said. “It made me go into the traffic division and into traffic safety,” after graduating from Taft High in 1994.
The Meeks tried to impress upon hundreds of current Taft High students pulled from their PE classes for one day that one mistake while you are driving can led to catastrophic consequences.
The program, the brainstorm of CHP division commander Dave Wymore, focused on big rig vs. car accidents and included a Frito-Lay delivery truck and a CHP car outside Mullen gym accompanied by a “Red Asphalt” clip inside the gym.
The pilot program was well received by teachers and students and may be expanded to other high schools. Taft High Superintendent/Principal Mark Richardson said, “We are excited to work with our partners in the CHP and Frito-Lay to help promote student safety.”
Officer Tye Meeks, TUHS class of 1996, gave some grim statistics, about crashes between semi tractor-trailer rigs and vehicles. “It’s the law of physics.”
Semis are 20 and 30 times the weight of cars and pickups,” he said. “And, these trucks can haul 80,000 pounds. Your vehicles weigh absolutely nothing compared to these trucks. You are going to lose.” The drivers of the smaller vehicles cause 70 percent of the accidents between semis and smaller vehicles, he added. “In most cases, it was preventable.” Of the fatalities from the one-sided crashes, 86 percent are in the smaller vehicles. Seventy-two Kern County residents died in vehicular accidents in 2011. Forty-two thousand Americans die annually.
Crashes are the No. 1 cause of death among teens. In the past four years, the length of time a student is in high school, 67 Kern County 14- to 18-year-olds were killed in traffic accidents, about the same number of students that listened intently to each of the day’s seven presentations.
Taft High was chosen in part because highways 119 and 46 are “two of the deadliest highways in California,” Tye said.
Students were allowed to climb up into the Frito-Lay cab to get a trucker’s-eye view. It was more what they didn’t see, than what they did see. The CHP cruiser parked 20 feet behind the semis was entirely blocked by view because of the truck’s sheer size. “Trucks need a space cushion to maneuver and brake,” Tye warned. Junior Rebecca Jackson said, “It made me see things from a different perspective. When you see people passing trucks, (now I know) they can’t (always) see you.”
The brothers concluded their presentation with a truck’s booming air horn blast and the warning: “Don’t let that be the last thing you hear. Driving is a privilege. If you don’t respect it, you could end up in a (“Red Asphalt”) video. Don’t make me tell your parents, ‘Your son or daughter is dead.’ ”