Law enforcement and public safety officials are asking motorists and passengers to wear their seat belt while on Texas roads this holiday weekend. Representatives with the Texas Department of Transportation made a stop in Sherman Friday to display “Kailee’s Crash” — a sculpture that depicts a crash that took the life of a 16-year-old from Spring in 2017.
The presentation was a part of TxDOT’s 17th anniversary of the Click It or Ticket campaign, which features enhanced enforcement of state seat belt laws through June 2.
Officials with TxDOT said 982 people died in crashes on Texas roads in 2018 while not wearing a seat belt.
“Safely getting to your destination involves doing a lot of things right,” TxDOT District Engineer Noel Paramanantham said. “But it starts with one simple action — fastening your seat belt. So please remember this: buckling can save you in a crash.”
Kailee Mills’ parents described the teenager as an “absolute ray of sunshine” in their lives due to her outgoing and friendly nature. Monday would have been her 19th birthday and had she lived, she would be graduating next week with plans to become a doctor.
David Mills said his daughter was always good about wearing her seat belt whenever she was in a car. However, all it takes is one slight lapse of judgment for things to take a fatal turn, he said.
Kailee was travelling with friends in the backseat of a car to a Halloween party at around 9:15 p.m. Oct. 28, 2017. David Mills said his daughter took her seat belt off for just a moment in order to lean over to her friends and take a selfie of them in their Halloween costumes.
At that moment, the car she was travelling in veered off of the road and flipped over just 500 yards from her home. In total, the friends were only expecting to drive one mile to the party. The three other occupants were able to walk away from the crash, but Kailee, who was the only person not wearing a seat belt, was killed as she was thrown from the vehicle.
“We know that if she had her seat belt on she would still be here today,” David Mills said. “But that girl we call our ray of sunshine is gone forever.”
The “Kailee’s Crash” sculpture displays the moment that the car began to tumble, with a female mannequin unsupported and falling through the back seat of the vehicle.
“It is a gut-wrenching image for me, but it is something that someone could see and they could change their mind,” David Mills said.
Texas Department of Public Safety Staff Sgt. Mark Tackett said the Mills’ story is powerful to him not only professionally but also as a parent.
“I’ve been on the other side of the door from the Mills’ in the past,” he said, describing the “knock and talk” as the hardest part of his job.
As a parent, Tackett said he is currently teaching his own child about driving safety and how to be on the road. As a part of that, he is trying to impart the importance of defensive driving along with always wearing a seat belt.
“You aren’t wearing that because you’re not a good driver, because you’re going to do something,” he said. “It is preventative. It is a protection.”