After their daughter died, parents stress importance of seat belts


David and Wendy Mills lost their 16-year-old daughter, Kailee, six months ago when she unbuckled her seat belt for a brief moment to take a selfie with friends on the way to a Halloween party near Houston.

Tuesday, the couple planned to share their story at the capitol to help the Texas Department of Transportation kick off its annual “Click it or Ticket” campaign. This year the agency is displaying 929 pairs of white shoes at the kickoff event, each pair representing a life lost on Texas roads last year that might have been saved by a seat belt.

“It is something so preventable,” TxDOT spokesperson Diann Hodges said.

For Kailee, it might have been prevented if not for the photo. Her parents taught her to wear her seat belt, and except in that moment, she did. “Losing a child is the worst thing a human being can go through,” David Mills told KXAN outside the capitol Tuesday morning.

Standing in front of the rows of white shoes, he and his wife remembered their “absolute ray of sunshine,” taken from them last October. “She just loved to make people smile and laugh. She was the light of our life,” David Mills said.

The couple turned to advocacy because, they say, Kailee’s death was preventable, and they don’t want others to hurt like they do. Mornings, they said, are especially hard, waking up to a reality they don’t want to believe.

“It’s devastating. It’s something that we have to relive over and over again,” Wendy Mills said. “And I never want anyone to have to go through that.”

Along with the advocacy portion of this year’s campaign, law enforcement will step up its ticketing efforts between May 21 and June 3 to drive home the fact that one person not wearing a seat belt in a car can cost the driver $200.

Hodges said 92 percent of people in Texas say they wear their seat belts. Doing so can increase your chances of surviving a crash by 45 percent, or as much as 60 percent in rollover-prone trucks.

The agency’s message is simple: Wear a seat belt every time you’re in a car, no matter where you’re sitting.

“It’s not just the drivers or the front-seat passengers. Back-seat passengers can also cause injury or death to others in the vehicle if they’re not buckled in,” Hodges said.

“As you can see, this is a conversation that we don’t have enough,” David Mills said, motioning to the hundreds of pairs of shoes behind him. “We want to share Kailee’s story to hopefully impact one life. If we can save one life, this is all worth it.”

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