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How to survive a car crash? Listen to Kelli

June 1, 2017

Trp. Karla Bearce and her sister, three-time crash survivor Kelli Abrahamson.
​Photo: Trp. Karla Bearce will be thinking of her sister, three-time crash survivor Kelli Abrahamson, when she reminds motorists that seat belts save lives during the Click It or Ticket extra enforcement campaign, which runs through June 4.

If you’re like Kelli Abrahamson, the first thing you do after getting in a car is to put on your seatbelt. You don’t even think about it. It’s muscle memory: Your hand automatically reaches for it.

And if anyone knows how important that narrow strip of webbing is, it’s Kelli: Seatbelts have saved her life twice. And on the one occasion when Kelli forgot to put on her seatbelt, her life changed forever.

On July 7, 1996, Kelli was on her way to a graduation party with some friends in her hometown of Pierz. She was in the midst of telling a story when she hopped out to grab something she’d forgotten, and in her eagerness to finish the story, forgot to re-buckle her seatbelt. So when their car was hit by a truck that failed to yield at an intersection, Kelli was thrown from the passenger window and flew 30 feet, sustaining serious injuries to her face, arm, and knee.

Kelli’s sister, Karla Bearce, is a state trooper – but at the time, she was a 20-year-old sheriff’s deputy on water patrol. When Karla was called to the hospital, they weren’t sure whether Kelli would pull through. “I just remember standing there, praying,” said Karla.

That day changed both sisters in profound ways. Karla became a crash reconstructionist with the Minnesota State Patrol in part because of what happened to her sister. And when Karla stops a motorist for any reason, she thinks of Kelli when she reminds them: “Your destination is not guaranteed.” As a state trooper, though, she observes, “Nobody thinks they’re not going to get there.” And yet crashes happen every day, on such mundane errands as driving to work or going to the mall.

Kelli’s life is very different as well. She still has scars on her face and arm, but the true reminder of that day is the lesson that seatbelts save lives. “It’s the easiest decision to make when you get in a vehicle,” says Kelli. “It takes two seconds.”

Those two seconds were worth it four years ago when Kelli (who was pregnant at the time), her husband, her mother-in-law, and their two little boys struck a parked car at 70 miles an hour on the freeway. All of them were buckled in; they all survived with minor injuries – even the unborn baby.

That baby is four years old now, and he tells anyone who will listen that he buckles up because “I don’t want to fly out the window!”

So whether it takes mere muscle memory or Kelli’s amazing story to make you buckle up, make sure you do so this week and beyond. To remind motorists that seat belts save lives, troopers, deputies and officers are working overtime on Minnesota roads looking for motorists who fail to buckle up. More than 300 agencies across the state are participating in the Click It or Ticket extra enforcement campaign, which runs through June 4.