Sculpture gives reminder to buckle up

Kailee Mills, 16, only unbuckled her seatbelt for a second to take a photo with her friends in the backseat when the car she was in veered off the road. Though her friends survived the crash with cuts and bruises, Mills did not survive the crash.

The car Mills was riding in was on display outside the Odessa Police Department Wednesday morning, a wrecked sedan positioned upside down in mid-air, as it looked just prior to impact. This sculpture is touring 13 cities across Texas for the month of May, as the Texas Department of Transportation begins its annual Click It or Ticket campaign to remind Texas drivers to buckle up.

“It illustrates the sad reality of what can happen if you’re not wearing a seatbelt,” Odessa District of TxDOT Spokesman Gene Powell said.

David and Wendy Mills, the parents of Kailee Mills, told their story of what happened to their daughter Oct. 28, 2017, the last time they saw her alive. She had just left their home that night to ride with her friends to a Halloween party, less than a mile away from their own house in a residential neighborhood. On their way to the party, the car veered off the road. Mills was the only one not wearing her seatbelt, having taken it off for a photo, and was the only one killed in the crash.

“We never thought that it would happen to our daughter,” David Mills said. “We know that if she’d have been wearing her seatbelt she would still be here. But instead, the girl we called our ray of sunshine is gone.”

Kailee Mills was always the kind of person to wear her seatbelt, and reminded others while in the car to wear theirs as well, David Mills said, but she let her guard down, something many others have done as well.

David Mills said his daughter would have turned 18 this month and graduated from High School, and said she wanted to go to school and become a doctor.

“But we’re never going to get to see her graduate and walk the stage and collect her diploma,” Mills said.

David Mills said he hopes their story and the image of the car his daughter was in would help to serve as a reminder to others to always buckle their seatbelts.

“It’s unfortunate that some people need the threat of a ticket to remind them to wear a seatbelt when the consequences go way beyond paying a fine,” he said. “Wendy and I wish that we could pay a fine to make this go away.”

TxDOT District Engineer John Speed said there were 982 Texas drivers killed in crashes last year who weren’t wearing a seatbelt, nearly three people a day. Speed said seatbelts save lives, but only if they are used, and said both drivers and passengers must wear a seatbelt at all times.

Both Department of Public Safety Spokesman Sgt. Oscar Villarreal and Odessa Police Chief Mike Gerke said they will ramp up their enforcement of seatbelts this month, particularly from May 20 to June 2. Gerke said a seatbelt citation could cost someone around $200, and a parent with a child not wearing a seatbelt in the car could be charged $250.

“If we see you without your seatbelt on, you’re gonna get pulled over, and you’re gonna get a citation,” Gerke said. “Our hope is that ticket might wind up saving your life one day, because it makes you choose to buckle up in the future.”