Be careful, and stay out of trouble,” Jeff Hanson told his son, Tyler, as he left the house in late January 2015.
Tyler was almost to his car when his mother, Cari, called from the doorway.
“Hey, come back and give me a hug!” He jogged over to his mother. She was holding their black mini poodle in her arms. When Tyler hugged her, the puppy licked his face.
“See, he loves you too,” Cari says.
Jeff and Cari would never see their son again.
Tyler, 17, was driving north on Cornhusker Road at 180th Street when his Chevy Cavalier rolled, ejecting Tyler from the car, then pinning him underneath it. He was not wearing a seatbelt.
Now Tyler’s parents are spreading the word to click it. The money from Tyler’s memorial was dedicated to raising awareness for seatbelt safety. Part of the money went to designing “hugs,” small seatbelt wraps. Three hundred of these wraps were created for Tyler’s friends and family as a reminder to be safe. The rest of the memorial money was donated to the National Safety Council.
“I want to prevent other parents from experiencing such a tragic loss,” Jeff says. He hangs his head, barely holding back tears as he glances at his wife.
Tyler’s parents both struggle to understand why their son didn’t buckle up. Before Tyler left the classroom that Friday, Millard West English teacher Karen Palmer reminded her students to drive safely and wear their seatbelts; something she has done for the past 17 years.
They would be the last words she said to Tyler. Yet teenagers aren’t getting the message. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 45 percent of teenagers reported not buckling up as a passenger in 2013. Seatbelts reduce death chances by about half, yet 71 percent of drivers aged 15-20 killed in auto crashes were simply not pulling the safety strap.
“I think he (Tyler) would have been better off if he wore a seatbelt, but there is no guarantee,” believes Officer Earl Johnson, who investigated the accident.
“Teenagers think they are invincible,” Tyler’s friend Meghan Kocovsky says. “We get away with many other things, so we think we can get away with something as simple as not wearing a seatbelt. Unfortunately, it can get you killed.”
Tyler’s parents may never know what caused him to lose control that Friday night.
“Honestly, don’t think about yourself, but think about everyone who does give a crap about you, so buckle up for them,” Kocovsky advises.
For the Hansons, this statement is harrowingly too true. Their fun-loving and hard-working boy will never again rush through the front door. The Hanson house is eerily cold and silent. The pain is tangible.
The Hansons’ hope is that one person will learn from this tragedy, and maybe it will save one life. The seatbelt wraps say, “This HUG is in memory of Tyler to always buckle up, ‘cause you can’t put your arms around a memory.”