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'Move over' law is slow to take hold

More deputies killed in traffic than by gunfire

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Law enforcement deaths in the line of duty are often associated with gunfire, but traffic-related deaths -- including wrecks and deputies run over outside their cars -- outnumbered shooting deaths in 2009 and most of this decade.

Shelley Fulmer's husband, Aiken County sheriff's Sgt. Jason Sheppard, was killed in 2006 while directing traffic.   Michael Holahan/Staff
Michael Holahan/Staff
Shelley Fulmer's husband, Aiken County sheriff's Sgt. Jason Sheppard, was killed in 2006 while directing traffic.

That is in spite of the "move over" laws in all but three states that require motorists not just to change lanes but also to slow down when they see flashing emergency lights.

It's something Shelley Fulmer thinks about when she visits her husband's grave.

"Please pay attention and don't rubberneck," she said in a recent interview.

Years before he was Sgt. Jason Sheppard, he was a handsome cheerleader on the University of South Carolina Aiken squad. Fulmer, also on the squad, didn't take long to claim him.

"We knew pretty quick we wanted to be together," Fulmer said.

Over five years of shared classes and weekend road trips with the squad, their attraction developed into a deep-rooted love.

He proposed on their graduation night in front of a crowd.

"I could have killed him," Fulmer said with a grin.

They went "all out" for Fulmer's dream wedding, with friends and family packing Berlin Baptist Church in Salley.

Sheppard fulfilled his own dream with a shiny deputy's star from the Aiken County Sheriff's Office. Fulmer supported his decision, but worried about him every shift.

"You never know when you're going to get that call," she said.

Two years later, on Dec. 7, 2006, Sheppard, who had been promoted to sergeant in the civil division, was on his way home from work when he heard dispatch announce a fire at Verenes Industrial Park on U.S. Highway 1. He volunteered to direct traffic.

At 5:51 p.m., Sheppard was outside his vehicle, directing traffic with a lighted wand, when he was hit by an oncoming Honda CR-V. He was thrown 30 feet by the impact.

Fulmer was waiting at a nearby gas station with his hazardous material gear. Sheppard had asked her to bring it from home in case he was asked to assist with a chemical fire at the plant.

She knew something was wrong when she saw an ambulance race to the scene.

"I just got this feeling in my stomach," Fulmer said.

Deputies finally found her at the gas station and took her to Medical College of Georgia Hospital, where her husband had been taken by medical helicopter. As a surgical technician, Fulmer could accurately read the monitors surrounding Sheppard's bed and knew he had little chance of surviving.

"I'd almost rather not have known," Fulmer said.

At 11:45 p.m., she made the decision to turn off Sheppard's respirator. He was 29.

The driver of the CR-V, Linda Wyman, 62, of Asheville, N.C., was not charged in the wreck. Investigators said she changed lanes but was still slowing down from the 45 mph speed zone she was in when she hit Sheppard.

"This is just simply a tragic accident, and the driver of the vehicle that struck Sgt. Sheppard just did not see him," Aiken County Sheriff Michael Hunt said at the time.

Georgia and South Carolina both have "move over" laws. Fulmer, who remarried in 2009, said a lot of motorists change lanes but that few take the extra step to slow down.

Records from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund show that 164 law enforcement officers were fatally struck by vehicles from 1999 to 2009.

FIRST-RESPONDERS are not the only public servants listed under the law. Tow-truck drivers such as Donald Parrish, the owner of Ace Towing in Augusta, are also supposed to be protected.

Parrish said rarely, if ever, do motorists actually slow down when they spot his truck's flashing yellow lights.

"Maybe it's 1 or 2 percent. It's an insignificant amount," he said.

Parrish said he wears a reflective vest, turns on his rotating yellow lights and activates the truck's flashers before stepping out of the cab. Still, there are cars rushing by sometimes inches from his truck. If it gets too dangerous, Parrish said, he'll just wait for the road to clear.

"People should get over, but they don't," Parrish said.

An equally dangerous roadside job is construction work.

Tony Sheppard, the director of traffic engineering for the South Carolina Department of Transportation, said construction workers are all someone's brother, husband, sister or daughter.

"They're not there just to inconvenience you," he said.

Comments (7) Add comment
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Little Lamb
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Little Lamb 09/23/10 - 07:43 am
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There are twenty-something

There are twenty-something paragraphs above describing the sad story of the death of Jason Sheppard, then we get the punch line: The person who hit him did change lanes! Decades of data collected by traffic safety engineers show a clear, unmistakable picture: More traffic crashes are caused by lane changing than by speeding! The "move over" law is unenforceable and it is dangerous. Get your minions to repeal this law, governor!

By the way, the law says that you do not have to change lanes if it is unsafe to do so. So if you are cited for failure to move over, be sure your lawyer gets you to testify that you felt it would have been unsafe to change lanes under the conditions of the highway at the time. How can anyone dispute your judgement on personal safety?

Runner46
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Runner46 09/23/10 - 08:23 am
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Well, if you cannot safely

Well, if you cannot safely move over to another lane, the least you could do is slow down. No excuses for NOT reducing your speed!

Little Lamb
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Little Lamb 09/23/10 - 08:47 am
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I've been thinking about how

I've been thinking about how the police can enforce this law that says we must slow down as we approach a police vehicle stopped on the road with blue lights flashing. The only thing I can think of is that police patrol cars will have to travel in pairs. The first pulls a driver over for speeding and the second one sets up a radar trap at the scene to nail one car for not slowing down. That's a real effective use of law enforcement.

Little Lamb
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Little Lamb 09/23/10 - 08:54 am
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I wonder if Tony Sheppard,

I wonder if Tony Sheppard, the director of traffic engineering for the South Carolina Department of Transportation, is related to the late Jason Sheppard, former sergeant with the Aiken County sheriff's office?

Little Lamb
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Little Lamb 09/23/10 - 09:03 am
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Ace reporter Kyle Martin

Ace reporter Kyle Martin wrote:

The driver of the CR-V, Linda Wyman, 62, of Asheville, N.C., was not charged in the wreck. Investigators said she changed lanes but was still slowing down from the 45 mph speed zone she was in when she hit Sheppard.

You know, the headline of this story would lead one to think it is about people breaking the "move over" law. But the one anecdote Martin provides, for over twenty paragraphs, is about someone who obeyed the law. Martin says that Ms. Wyman changed lanes and slowed down. You would think he would have found someone who has actually been convicted of breaking the "move over" law.

Maybe Martin could not provide a story of someone who broke the law because police have not figured out a way to convict people on this charge. In fact, I'll bet that no one in South Carolina has been convicted of breaking this law to date.

When our legislators pass "feel good" laws such as "move over," they do not consider the hapless law enforcement system who has to deal with the thousands of nanny laws. Many of these laws are not practical to enforce, but they remain on the books doing nothing but providing fodder for personal interest newspaper stories.

John Scott
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John Scott 09/23/10 - 09:16 am
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Thanks for this article. Of

Thanks for this article. Of all the dangerous situations I face as a deputy, I feel most exposed to danger when I'm directing traffic. It seems our blue lights put some drivers in a trance or something and they lose common sense. This law is enforceable, but it is difficult to do so, unless there happens to be another deputy in the area who's observed the infraction. The law states that if it is not safe to change lanes at the time, then slowing down is the next safest thing to do. I haven't heard of anyone being cited simply for not moving over, not to say that it hasn't happened, but most of us in law enforcement are familiar with the law and understand that the safety of other drivers is just as important as our own safety. And on a side note, if you see a deputy not go after a driver who has run a red light or who made an improper lane change or something like that, more than likely it is because in doing so, it would create more of a traffic hazard for the deputy to maneuver the patrol vehicle to catch up with the driver. Believe it or not, most of us in law enforcement are good people who enjoy our jobs and try to do the best we can to protect and serve the public.

Little Lamb
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Little Lamb 09/23/10 - 09:35 am
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Thank you for your post up

Thank you for your post up above, Officer Scott. I support honest law enforcement officers and salute you for your service to your community. It is the lawmakers who drive me up the wall.

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