‘I thought I was dead’: Advocates raising awareness for Virginia’s move-over law

Published: Oct. 21, 2022 at 6:08 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - For Virginia State Police Sergeant Steven Sclafani, putting on the uniform each day is an honor.

‘My dad was a police officer, and I come from a family that’s in law enforcement, and I think it’s important to give back to others,” Sclafani said.

He says along with the badge comes risks.

“I was unconscious. It was an out-of-body experience. I thought I was dead,” Sclafani said.

Sclafini was conducting a traffic stop back in 2009 when a driver who fell asleep at the wheel struck his patrol car at 70 miles per hour.

“I was in the hospital for a day. I still feel it every morning when I wake up. It was a traumatic experience, and it’s something I’ll never forget,” Sclafani said.

According to the Emergency Responder Safety Institute, 65 traffic incident management responders were killed due to roadside collisions across the United States in 2021.

27 law enforcement officers were struck and killed while investigating motor vehicle crashes or assisting drivers on the side of the road in 2021, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

At the rest stop on I-64 in Goochland on Friday, members of AAA, Virginia State Police, The Richmond Ambulance Authority, and VDOT said too many drivers either don’t know about the law or don’t care.

“Cars have not slowed down, have not moved over, and they get extremely close,” Richmond Ambulance Authority Director of Field Operations Major Chad Greedan said.

The state law requires drivers to change lanes and slow down when they see emergency lights flashing.

“They might not be looking over their shoulder at the oncoming dangers they may face,” Melanie Clark said.

Clark understands all too well the tragic result.

She lost her husband, Hanover County Firefighter Brad Clark, in 2018 when a tractor-trailer crashed into his fire truck during Tropical Storm Michael.

His death prompted lawmakers to toughen penalties for those who violate the move-over law.

Melanie says she is reminded of his death every time a first responder is hit on the side of the road.

“Honestly, it makes my stomach turn. It’s an immediate reliving [of] what I’ve gone through, especially if there’s a fatality involved. It’s just horrible, and you just relive that moment when your life was turned upside down,” Clark said.

So, next time you’re behind the wheel, VDOT Incident Coordinator Christopher Rusk says to be aware of your surroundings.

“Most of us have families and children. They know what we do. They know how dangerous it is. Regardless of whether the light color is yellow, blue or red, all of us want to get home at night,” Rusk said.