June 25, 2002 11:00 pm

Much will be said about the need to wear seat belts following the tragic crash of a van that killed five firefighters and seriously injured others near Denver Friday afternoon.

The driver, 21-year-old Megan Helm of La Grande, reportedly was reaching for a snack when the van veered to the left, and she overcorrected to the right. The vehicle rolled three times on the interstate and once on the shoulder, causing four people to be thrown from it.

A STRONG CASE can be made from this tragedy for all passengers in vehicles to wear their seat belts. Of the five who lost their lives, only one, Daniel Rama of Baker City, was wearing a seat belt, according to the Colorado State Patrol. The four others were ejected from the van.

Discussion of this accident also should focus on the safety of the van that rolled over on Interstate 70.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that 15-passenger vans, such as the Ford Econoline E-350 Super Duty involved in this crash, have a rollover rate three times that of regular vans. What can be done in the design of the larger vans to make them less prone to rollovers?

We question whether Colorado police should be pursuing careless driving charges against Helm. While a thorough investigation of the accident to determine its cause is necessary, officers should not be citing this grief-stricken young woman into court.

MANY DRIVERS HAVE momentarily taken their eyes off the road while reaching for something like a soda or a cell phone. Usually the results are not devastating. A driver is able to quickly bring the vehicle under control, even if it strays briefly from its course. Motorists, of course, must be vigilant to keep their vehicles under control at all times.

Helm will pay a tremendous price of sorrow and regret through her lifetime as she accepts responsibility for this accident. Officers might be legally accurate in citing her on the traffic offense, but a court appearance and a fine will not do her or anyone else much good.


It might be a brother, a sister, a son, a daughter, a mother, a father or a friend. Most of us know of someone who consistently fails to snap on their seat belt after getting into a car.

FIRDAY'S TRAGIC accident that killed five firefighters in Colorado should inspire us to get firm with our loved ones and friends — and insist they wear their seat belts.

It's really OK to bug them about this.

A little nagging every time they are seen not wearing their seat belt could go a long way in making our loved ones much safer and giving us some peace of mind.