By JASON COX
Of the Keizertimes
It’s hard to imagine a more heartbreaking story:
An 18-year-old Keizer man killed by a head injury suffered in a car accident Dec. 6, 2009 outside of Dallas, Ore. The accident resulted when a man, driving drowsy, struck the vehicle Daymon Wachtler was riding in with 24-year-old Rebecca Dunaway. Dunaway was killed instantly; Daymon died two days later at Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center in Corvallis.
Among those he left behind were his fiancé, Lacey Thomas, who six months later would give birth to their daughter, Kaydon.
His mother, Deanne, came to the Keizer City Council asking Mayor Lore Christopher to proclaim May 25 – what would be Daymon’s 20th birthday – Drowsy Driving Awareness Day. They had moved to Keizer after Daymon graduated from McKay High School.
The statewide statistics are alarming: Some 823 crashes in Oregon for 2009 were attributed to drowsiness and fatigue.
And a new study from AAA revealed some one in 10 drivers admitted to falling asleep behind the wheel in the past year, and 41 percent fessed up to snoozing while driving during their lifetime. And the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates drowsy driving causes 1,550 deaths and 71,000 injuries in more than 100,000 accidents each year. The NHTSA also states about one in eight crashes leading to hospitalization are a result of drowsy driving.
Deanne said at the council meeting there isn’t enough emphasis on drowsy driving.
“I believe someone taking a risk of driving intoxicated has a better chance of making it to their destination without an accident versus a person who gets in the car and falls asleep,” Wachtler said.
More than a dozen friends and family members came with her for support, several wearing jersey-style shirts with Wachtler’s name and the number 33 – Daymon’s favorite number and the one he wore on his football and basketball jerseys.
“We see it everywhere now,” Deanne said. “It’s very comforting how random that number comes up. And we just know that it’s very cool. It’s him.”
She’s seeking a new law at the Oregon legislature that would make it an offense to cause an accident while driving fatigued – Daymon’s law. It frustrated Deanne that there were no legal consequences for the man who caused the accident.
“You just don’t think about the consequences,” Deanne said. “We all know drinking and driving is against the law and why it’s against the law. But we don’t have that awareness for drowsy driving.”
She called the mayor’s proclamation another step in the right direction towards bringing awareness to this growing problem.
“I felt a great sense of accomplishment on Daymon and Rebecca’s behalf, to be handed that proclamation from Mayor Christopher,” she said. “It is an honor to be able to possibly make a life or death difference in people’s lives. I know Daymon would feel the same way.”