Sioux Falls, SD
Drive through South Dakota and there's one particular road sign that might catch your attention.
"THINK" signs mark the area where someone has died in a vehicle crash along the interstate or highway.
Two "THINK" signs welded together near Brandon stand in memory of a young couple gone too soon. It's been 18 years since Angee Rozeboom and Eric Scharenbroich died.
In January of 1998, the high school juniors were killed when they were hit head-on by a drunk driver.
"They had to take the truck off the car to get to Angee, they had to take the car of the bridge to get to Eric," Nancy Scharenbroich, Eric's Mother, said.
That tragic night is still painfully vivid for Eric's mother Nancy Scharenbroich.
"I remember screaming No! Not me," Scharenbroich said.
Today, all she has left are pictures which bring back memories she shared with her son.
"He was 16-years-old, he loved making people laugh, he liked to be the jokester," Scharenbroich said.
More than 2,000 "THINK" signs stretch from border to border in South Dakota. Each one pinpoints a location where someone lost their life on the road.
"They've been put out there since 1979; each of the "THINK" signs in South Dakota represents a location where a heart-beat stopped because of a traffic crash," Lee Axdahl, South Dakota Highway Safety, said.
The program began 37 years ago as a way to make drivers more aware of the dangers of drinking and driving. According to the South Dakota Department of Public Safety, alcohol was involved in nearly half of the deaths these signs represent.
While the number of fatal crashes is going down, officials say more of these signs are being put up because of unbelted drivers or passengers.
"I can tell you with statistical certainty that probably 80-to-100 more people will die in South Dakota this year because of risky behavior that risky behavior primarily is not wearing a seatbelt," Axdahl said.
That was true in Rozeboom's and Scharenbroich's fatal crash.
"What if Angee and Eric were wearing their seatbelts, would they have survived the crash? What if the young man had been wearing a seatbelt? Would he have been able to control the car when it hit the guard rail?" Scharenbroich said.
"The vast majority of our fatalities could have been possibly prevented if they had just simply buckled up," Axdahl said.
Regardless of whether seatbelts or alcohols were involved, transportation officials will only build the signs if the victim's family approves. The signs usually go up shortly after a fatal crash occurs and stay in place until the department feels they are too deteriorated or damaged to remain in place.
New road construction could also remove a sign. No sign is put back up unless the family requests it.
"This is a location where somebody is not going to see a graduation; somebody is not going to share the joy of opening a Christmas present, having a Thanksgiving dinner," Axdahl said.
You may have noticed flower memorials wrapped around many of the fatality markers. The signs have become much like personal gravesites for those who have lost loved ones.
"I just truly believe that those signs are a constant reminder, and that they can change lives, and they have changed lives, I know they have," Scharenbroich said.
For Nancy Scharenbroich, these markers will always be more than just road signs. They represent not only her loss, but also her hope that they will prevent someone else's loss.
"Maybe you're driving by them and you're driving too fast… maybe they'll slow down… maybe they don't have their seatbelts on…maybe they'll click their seatbelts," Scharenbroich said.
Just maybe they will think and make the choice to save a life, so no father, brother, sister, or mother will have to endure the pain of losing another loved one on the road.
Scharenbroich has been a long-time advocate for safe driving; in fact, she owns the trademarked slogan "Get a ride, don't drink and drive."
However, not all of the crash sites are the result of alcohol or a seatbelt violation. Some are caused by anything from the weather to distracted driving
Eye on KELOLAND
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