Washington Post

Recalling Lives Lost On America's Roads

At D.C. Rally, Victims' Kin Urge Caution

By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 6, 1998; Page A10

D.C. police officer Anthony Simms was working Memorial Day weekend in 1996 and was out of his cruiser talking to a motorist he had pulled over when a pickup truck barreled through the Ninth Street tunnel and hit him from behind.

Simms, on the alert that day for speeding or drunk drivers, died a week later. Yesterday, joining more than 100 others for the first annual National Road Victim Remembrance Day, his widow emotionally recounted his death before placing a red rose in the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue NW.

"My 35-year-old husband, whose career and life were just beginning, was hit with such impact that he flew 35 feet," said Pamela Simms, also a D.C. police officer. "He was forever torn from my life."

At the time of his death, Anthony Simms was coordinator for the police department's Speed and Alcohol Kill intervention program, a personal crusade Pamela Simms is working to continue. "My husband's fight is not over," she said. "This battle has just begun."

Timed to coincide with the anniversary of Princess Diana's death in a traffic accident, organizers said yesterday that they wanted to give victims' families and friends an outlet for their grief and to raise awareness of the dangers posed by aggressive, speeding and drunk drivers.

Gathered for a rally in Lafayette Square, an array of speakers from across the country told the tragic tales of their loved ones and made pleas for calmer and safer driving.

"The current situation is intolerable and unacceptable," said Richard Compton, an adviser for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. "Sadly, it's more than just driver error that causes accidents. Most of these drivers have taken an action that is deliberately illegal or unsafe."

The rally, scheduled again for next May, was sponsored by Citizens Against Speeding and Aggressive Driving and drew representatives from several national road safety groups, including Mothers Against Drunk Driving. They spoke about the dangers on America's roadways and called for more intense public education programs and stricter traffic laws to curtail the death toll.

According to the NHTSA, 41,967 people were killed last year on U.S. roads -- the equivalent of a major airline disaster every other day. Compton said that improvements have been made in recent years, including a significant decline in alcohol-related deaths, but that much remains to be done.

Mike and Jennettie Lierman, of St. Louis, lost their 22-year-old daughter, Jennifer Hywari, on Aug. 11, 1997. A motorist with a history of speeding and other moving violations swerved in front of Hywari's car, then slammed on his brakes. The woman's car hurtled across the median and into oncoming traffic.

"A part of my life was taken that day, and I will never be the same," Jennettie Lierman told the crowd yesterday. "Why must everyone be in such a hurry? Your vehicle becomes a weapon when you choose to ignore the rules of the road."

After soft music, songs by a choir and the reading of names of area crash victims, rally participants placed more than 1,500 roses in the center of Pennsylvania Avenue and said a short prayer. Hundreds of tourists shared the moment of silence.

For Cheryle Adams, 41, an organizer, the ceremony provided a strong sense of closure. On June 15, 1993, she was a victim of aggressive driving in the District. She was about to cross the intersection at 13th and L streets NW, two blocks from her home, when two cars collided while racing through a red light. One of the cars careered onto the sidewalk and pinned her to a light pole.

Doctors initially thought they would have to amputate both of her legs. Four years later, she is able to walk but still suffers excruciating pain.

"Having a day like this really helps," Adams said. "It's almost like you're feeding off of the energy of people who went through the same pain. When I looked at the centerpiece with all the roses and the people from across the country, it made me very happy."