The Free Press, Mankato, MN

May 10, 2013

Lewisville man receives seatbelt award

By Edie Schmierbach

---- — LEWISVILLE — When a state trooper handed that ticket to Thomas Flitter of Lewisville in February 2010, his attitude was, well, less than grateful.

“I was really mad,” Flitter said. The day already had been stressful, he was pulled over on his way home from a series of medical tests. And the seat-belt ticket — it wasn’t his first.

Last winter, Flitter had an attitude adjustment after a two-vehicle accident in Watonwan County. He was very happy to see a trooper arrive at the scene and help unhook him from the seat-belt that suspended him within his rolled pickup.

Minnesota State Patrol trooper Casey Kester first checked Flitter’s injuries and determined they weren’t critical, then went to help the woman who was driving other vehicle. Her injuries weren’t serious.

Kester, recently presented Flitter a “Saved by the Belt Award” at his residence in Lewisville, where he continues to recover from injuries suffered in the Feb. 10 collision.

Flitter greeted Kester warmly and the two men posed together as another trooper snapped a photo.

Then they just hung out for a while “shooting the bull” Kester said.

Flitter asked the visiting troopers if he could look at a picture of the accident scene.

“I am positive I would not have survived — the gal would not have either, but she was wearing her seat belt,” Flitter said this week, remembering the head-on collision about two miles north of Lewisville on Highway 15. He said he cringes when he thinks back to that Sunday evening.

Both vehicles were going about 55 mph. The road was wet. Then he saw a Ford Taurus in his lane, coming straight at him. The front side of his truck was struck by the automobile whose driver was impaired by alcohol.

“I ended up in the ditch with the pickup on its side,” Flitter said.

“It’s an eye-opener,” he said. “You are doing everything right, just riding along and then something happens.”

Flitter took about six weeks before he felt like getting behind the wheel of a vehicle. He continues physical therapy for his injured leg, which was operated on about two weeks ago.

Flitter’s now an advocate for seat-belt safety. He makes sure anyone who’s with him buckles up. Flitter doesn’t have to remind his wife, Devota, though, she was a regular seat-belt wearer long before his change in attitude.

Saved by the Belt award recipient stories, including Flitter’s, will be shared later this month at the south-central Minnesota Toward Zero Deaths regional workshop May 20 in Mankato.

Crash survivor Cindy Hagen of Mankato will tell her story during local law enforcement's May Mobilization Seat Belt Enforcement kickoff event 10:30 a.m. today at North Mankato Fire Station 2. The promotion is a reminder to motorists and passengers to buckle up, as extra Click It or Ticket patrols take to the road May 20 through June 2. In the past three years, there were 864 traffic deaths on Minnesota roads of which 352 (41 percent) of the victims were not buckled up. Of those 352 fatalities, 41 percent were motorists ages 16-29, according to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.