The Champaign County Sheriff’s Office and a local resident are urging county residents to sign up for a program that could save their lives.
Through the state Bureau of Motor Vehicles’ Next of Kin Program, state residents can identify people they want to be notified in the event they are involved in a motor vehicle crash leaving them unable to communicate with emergency medical responders.
Residents with a driver’s license, temporary permit or state ID have the option of adding emergency contact information to their record.
“Everyday law enforcement, fire and EMS respond to serious motor vehicle accidents,” Sheriff Matt Melvin stated in a press release. “Victims involved in these auto accidents are sometimes unable to provide their information because of the injuries that they have sustained. You could save your life if you sign up for this program.”
A person’s emergency contact information includes a designated contact person who may be able to provide law enforcement personnel, EMS and emergency room doctors with needed medical information.
Melvin stated sometimes people die in crashes and law enforcement is required to make the next of kin notification. When no person is designated as the next of kin, Melvin said, it hinders the process of notifying family members.
Mechanicsburg resident Carmela Wiant played a significant role in getting legislation passed to create the Next of Kin database.
Wiant’s son, David Money, was killed in an auto accident from hydroplaning on Aug. 7, 2006, in Columbus just three days before his 24th birthday. Wiant was informed of her only child’s passing through a hospital chaplain over a phone conversation hours after the crash.
She does not want other families to go through the same experience.
“I had that taken away from me,” Wiant said about being with her son in his final hours. “I will never ever get that back. My goal is I want family to be with family as soon as they can get there.”
“I never want anybody to call into a hospital and find out later that it’s a hospital chaplain and they tell you ‘your son is dead’ and they don’t even know who you are,” she said.
The legislation took close to a year to develop before it passed in April 2008. Wiant described the process as long, draining and emotional.
Before addressing the state legislature, Wiant received words of encouragement from former Rep. Larry Flowers.
“I walked up to him. I introduced myself and he just gave me a great big hug,” Wiant said. “He said ‘Carmela when you’re up there talking you just act like you’re talking to me on the telephone. Just forget about the people being here,’ he said. ‘you have a powerful story about your son’ and he said ‘just tell your story as if you were telling me on the phone.’”
Wiant said the representative’s words were powerful to her. By the time she finished speaking with the legislature, Wiant remembers looking up and not seeing a dry eye in the audience.
“It was very heartfelt to them and they knew something like this had to be passed because it was a no-brainer,” Wiant said. “The hours that’s wasted between the police officers and EMTs and everybody else trying to find somebody is just unbelievably hard and this is going to help everybody to be able to find family.”
As of last Thursday, 728,621 people were signed up for the program in Ohio, according to the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles. This included 6,227 people in Champaign County.
Wiant said she frequently shared David’s story on a number of websites, which inspired a parent in New Jersey who suffered a loss in a similar manner to get a similar law passed in New Jersey.
“She always said ‘Carmela if I had not seen that (story) this would have never happened,’” Wiant said. “It’s one of those things that is so simple that should be in every state.”
Wiant said currently between 10 to 12 other states have a similar next of kin program.
According to the bureau of motor vehicles’ website, the next of kin program is free and there is no fee to add emergency contact information to a person’s license, permit, or ID record. The contact information is stored in a secure database that holds Ohio driver license and ID information accessed only by the Ohio BMV and law enforcement, according to the website.
Residents can submit their emergency contact information in person at any local deputy registrar, on the bureau’s website or through a mail-in enrollment form.
Nick Walton can be reached at 937-652-1331 Ext. 1777 or on Twitter @UDCWalton.