118 mph on U.S. 65

Published 10:15 am Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Glenville-Emmons High School senior Shinead Cunningham knows what it’s like to have her life changed by a single choice.

On prom day two years ago, she endured what could have been a life-threatening crash while riding in the car with her prom date.

However, because she was wearing a seat belt, she is living to tell her story.

Email newsletter signup

“There’s no question that if she weren’t wearing her seat belt, she wouldn’t be here today,” said Freeborn County Sheriff’s Office detective Bob Kindler. “She is alive and able to carry on a normal life. If she hadn’t, it would have affected not only herself and her family but the entire student body.”

As officers and deputies across the state on Monday began a heightened enforcement to encourage proper seat belt use, local law enforcement officials and members of the Toward Zero Death committee are recognizing Cunningham for her choice with a “Saved by the Belt” award. They say she stands as an example to her peers and to others of the importance of seat belt usage.

When asked why she wears her seat belt, Cunningham responded: “I just do. I always have. I always will.”

Back problems for the rest of her life

Her crash was shortly before 7 p.m. on May 3, 2008 — a day Cunningham said she will never forget.

She and her prom date, Nick Golbuff, were driving northbound on U.S. Highway 65 just south of Glenville in a Mini Cooper, when Cunningham said Golbuff decided to race another car.

She said the car went as fast as 118 mph, and they ended up in a ditch after rolling seven times.

“We weren’t far from the school,” she said. “I could see the high school from where we crashed.”

She received a concussion and broke her nose, and she said she will have back problems the rest of her life. But luckily, that was the extent.

Her date had no injuries.

Kindler said it was an easy decision for Cunningham to put her seat belt on that night.

She had also told Golbuff to put his seat belt on before they left, she said.

It has been almost one year since the state’s primary seat belt law went into effect, allowing law enforcement to stop and ticket drivers and their passengers solely for seat belt violations.

The law requires passengers in all seating positions to be buckled up or seated in the correct child restraint. A seat belt fine is $25 but will cost more than $100 with court and administrative fees.

According to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, the state’s primary seat belt law has helped the state achieve a record-high 90 percent daytime seat belt compliance rate, which is up from 87 percent in 2008.

“She is an example of someone who is here today because she was wearing her seat belt,” Kindler said. “That sends a positive message. And what’s really special about this is that Shinead can relate to her peers.”

Michelle Severtson, a member of the Toward Zero Death committee, said she came across the crash as Cunningham was crawling out of the car.

“I didn’t know what kind of car it was, but it looked pretty serious,” Severtson said. “I was just happy to see them standing outside the car.”

Looking back on that day, Cunningham said she feels mostly anger because she didn’t do enough to prevent the crash.

“If someone’s driving a way you don’t want them to, demand that they stop or refuse to get into the car,” she said.

State statistics

According to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, unbelted motorists account for more than half of all vehicle occupants killed each year.

In Minnesota during 2006-08, almost 1,100 motorists were killed in crashes, of which 539 were unbelted. About 1,100 unbelted motorists were also seriously injured.

The Department of Public Safety states nearly 80 percent of all unbelted traffic deaths in the state occur on Greater Minnesota roads. Belt use is especially low among teens and young adults.

Statewide each year, motorists ages 15 to 29 account for 45 percent of all unbelted deaths, according to a news release. This same group accounts for 55 percent of all unbelted serious injuries.

Kindler said serious injury crashes are often overlooked, but those crashes have a serious impact not only on the victims but their families as well.

He said the extra enforcement across the state hopes to reduce those crashes. It focuses not only on seat belt usage, but also speed and distracted driving.

The extra emphasis goes through June 6.