The May 3 family dinner in Layton had been an enjoyable one for Charles and Joy Peavey. The get-together gave the couple and their two older children a chance to show off the family's new baby, born five days earlier.
Afterward, on the way home to Salt Lake City, baby Stephen became a little restless. Joy and Charles always used seat belts, and they made sure their children used them as well. But Joy decided to take Stephen from his child safety seat just long enough to nurse him. A few minutes later and he'd be back in the seat.The family hadn't driven far on U.S. 89 when they slowed down for two cars stopped on the highway. A deer had run across the road, and the cars had stopped to miss it.
Police later cited a Kaysville man for following the Peavey car too closely. Charles had just started to accelerate after slowing down when the man slammed hard into the family's car.
"I don't remember hearing any brakes," Joy said. But she does remember how the force of the crash broke her seat and snapped it rapidly backward. And she remembers realizing that her baby was no longer in her arms.
"The most terrifying thing I remember is that I couldn't find my baby even though I was looking all over the car for him," she said. "I looked at the pavement after that and thought, `My baby's gone.' "
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the most dangerous place in a car for a child is on the lap or in the arms of an adult. Unbuckled children in general, and especially those allowed to stand on car seats, don't fare much better in a serious accident.
The Utah Department of Health says safety belts can reduce injuries by 55 percent in Utah while cutting traffic deaths by 50 percent. And use of approved child safety seats can reduce the probability of death in a crash by approximately 90 percent and severe injury by 70 percent.
The Department of Health also reports that 56 of us will be injured today on Utah streets and highways and that six of us will be dead from car crashes before the week's over.
So how many Utahns use safety belts regularly? A dismal 29 percent, according to latest estimates. Government officials hope the percentage increases following last week's National Safe Kids Week, a campaign by the Utah Department of Public Safety to push use of safety belts and this week's "Buckle Up America Week," which runs through Memorial Day weekend.
Nevertheless, the Utah Highway Safety Office still expects to issue around 4,000 speeding and seat belt citations over the holiday weekend.
Joy says she still doesn't know how her baby landed in grass on the highway's right shoulder. The force of the impact shattered the family car's left rear window, and Stephen apparently flew through the window after being jolted from Joy's arms. She says the car must have spun around after being hit, or the baby would have landed in the highway.
"I don't know how he missed the pavement," she said.
The driver of the vehicle that hit the family's car suffered only minor injuries. His passenger, who was not wearing a seat belt, wasn't so lucky.
He had to undergo reconstructive surgery on his face.
"The last I heard, he was still in the hospital," Joy said.
As for her baby, he was airlifted following the accident to Primary Children's Medical Center, where he has been receiving treatment for four skull fractures. But he's made a strong recovery and is expected to be all right. Doctors say he can go home in two more weeks.
"You might be a good driver, but as careful as you are doesn't mean everyone else is going to be as careful," Joy said. "You have no control over what happens when someone hits you like that."
She warns mothers against taking their children from safety seats even for a moment. She says it's a miracle Stephen didn't hit the highway pavement, where he could have suffered massive injuries or been run over by a car.
"There's no way we can replace our babies," Joy said. "Luckily, I can hold my son again."