NBC 6 Investigation: Parents Ignoring Law, Putting Kids At Risk

We hear the message all the time: buckle up, it’s the law. But Team 6 investigators have discovered many South Florida parents are ignoring that law and putting their kid’s at risk.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says 13% of Floridians don't buckle up but that number appears much higher for children in some parts of South Florida and the consequences can be deadly. Just ask South Florida mom, Stacey Satchell.

“I am empty every single day. For the rest of my life, I believe I will be empty,” said Satchell.

On April 3, 2011, an early morning phone call brought her the worst news a parent can get. Her sons, 11-year-old Shane, and 18-month-old Stephaune --- were dead.

“I absolutely was saying just wake me up because I thought I was in a dream because there’s no way this could be real.”

Hearing about the crash that took her two brothers is still painful for Satchell’s 7-year-old daughter. She sobs as her mom talks about the boys’ deadly ride home to Coral Springs with their dad. After a tire blew, their SUV flipped over. The boys and another child were thrown from the vehicle. All three died at the scene. None was wearing a seatbelt.

“I was devastated because at that very instance I was like it could have prevented what has happened. It could have saved them.”

Federal statistics indicate seat belts might have saved the children's lives. They show passengers who buckle up are 45% less likely to be critically hurt in a crash. If you’re thrown from a car, you've got a 79% chance of dying.

The deaths of two unbuckled children in a crash last year from Park Lakes Elementary drew the attention of the Broward Sheriff’s Office to this issue. Now, BSO deputies and fire rescue employees periodically look for parents who don't buckle up their children.

“How come you didn’t have on that seatbelt?” says a deputy to a little girl exiting a car at Collins Elementary.

At that school, 83% of kids counted by deputies were not wearing a seatbelt.

“I don’t even have words for it. I’m extremely shocked about that,” said Courtney Palmer who leads BSO’s seatbelt campaign.

At nearby Dania elementary, nearly half of students weren’t wearing seatbelts. And at two other Broward elementary schools, more than 80 students at each of those schools weren’t buckled.

Team 6 Investigators also road along with Florida Highway Patrol Sergeant Mark Wysocky. Within an hour, he spotted an 11-year-old unbuckled in a car on I-75 in Miramar.

His mother, Jennie Crivas, gets a ticket and in Spanish says, “The truth was I forgot to tell him. I always tell him.”

“It’s just amazing that people don’t take the time to buckle up their kids when things can happen so quickly on the interstate,” said Wysocky.

Officers say being in a rush is part of the problem and studies show the problem is worse among some demographic groups.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, almost half of all black and Hispanic children killed in crashes were not wearing a seatbelt compared to just 26 percent of white children.

Satchell says attitudes about properly restraining children aren’t the same in her native country. “I’m from Jamaica…and seat belts and car seats and booster seats is not something that we are highly educated on.”

“I saw some people and they did not have a seatbelt.”

At the schools, a seatbelt super hero tells students she has spotted too many children not buckling up--part of BSO’s seatbelt campaign. A lesson deputies want parents to learn too.

“Your seatbelt on, too. Parents lead by example,” says Courtney Palmer to an unbuckled parent dropping her child off at school. She says BSO’s seatbelt campaign has resulted in a nearly 60 % increase in seatbelt use at one school.

As for Satchell, she started the Wrap Me In Your Arms foundation which she says is aimed at educating families about the importance of seatbelts.

She hopes her story prevents others from traveling her same painful road.

“Something so simple changed my life forever. For everyone I can inspire of the importance of using a car seat or a seat belt I can save a life and for every life I can save then Shane and Stephaune lives on.”

Steveroy Hansen, the driver of the car and father of Stephaune and Shane, was cited and fined $2,400 and his license was suspended 6 months. Still upset by his children’s death, he said he wasn’t ready to talk about what happened.

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