One Fatality in Tragic North Tongass Accident
By MARY KAUFFMAN
March 20, 2018
In a public dispatch, the Alaska State Troopers reported their investigation showed the vehicle lost control and struck a guard rail [of the Whipple Creek bridge] before striking a tree. Troopers reported one of the occupants Michelle Verney, age 26 of Ketchikan, was transported by Emergency Medical Services to PeaceHealth Ketchikan Medical Center where she died due to injuries sustained in the collision.
Sandra Rusin McCray told SitNews that there were three occupants in the vehicle. Her 35-year-old son, Shawn, was a back seat passenger and the only one wearing a seat belt at the time of the crash. McCray said her son sustained a broken leg and still remains at Ketchikan Medical Center.
" I truly believe Shawn is alive because of his seatbelt," McCray said, She said if sharing her son's story "could save just one life it would be worth sharing."
McCray said both the driver and Verney were not wearing seat belts noting that Verney passed from her injuries. The condition of the driver was unknown by McCray but she said she did know that the driver was ejected from the car into the ravine. She said," It's sad that Michelle lost her life."
McCray said her son remembers the entire crash and said he could feel the seatbelt holding him in unlike his friend Michelle Verney who he said was tossed violently in the car and the driver ejected. Verney's injuries were fatal and the condition of the driver is unknown at this time.
Rusin McCray said she first heard about the accident on FaceBook before receiving a call from the emergency room. McCray said, "It was a long night. Shawn is very lucky and had the sense to wear his seatbelt."
"His leg will heal but it's going to be a long haul. He has additional surgery on Wednesday and then 8 weeks no pressure on that leg. Then PT," said McCray. "Grateful he's alive." McCray said she is sad for the death of his [Shawn's] girlfriend, Michelle. "Just way to young," said McCray.
McCray's son has additional surgery Wednesday and a long healing ahead for himself; however, she said he knows how different it would be have been if he had not belted up."
In May 1989 the Alaska State Legislature passed a law requiring seat belt use by all occupants in a motor vehicle.
Until 2006, drivers could only be given an Alaska seat belt ticket if they were pulled over for another reason. However, on May 1, 2006, Alaska’s primary seat belt law went into effect. The primary seat belt law permits a law enforcement officer to stop a vehicle and issue a citation for a seatbelt violation even if it was the only violation observed by the officer.
According to the Alaska Department of Public Safety's website, Alaska’s Observed Seat Belt use rate has increased 9.3% from 82.4% in 2007 to 90.1% in 2017.
In a public dispatch, Alaska State Troopers reported the investigation is still ongoing and that Verney's next of kin were notified Sunday.
The name of the driver has not been officially released.
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