Virginia State Police Trooper Kris Chapman continues to recover from injuries he sustained when a drunk driver struck his vehicle on the side of Interstate 81 at Seven Mile Ford last winter. That incident made him the first of eight troopers hit this year alone as they worked on the sides of the commonwealth’s highways.
One trooper struck is too many and eight is an epidemic, and Chapman is lending his voice in encouraging Virginia motorists to cure it.
Chapman went into the studios of Marion radio station WMEV to record the audio for one of two public service announcements aimed at getting drivers to heed a Virginia law requiring them to move into the lane away from stopped law enforcement officers and emergency responders.
“My name is Trooper Kris Chapman and I want to remind you of Virginia’s ‘Move Over’ law,” Chapman says at the start of a video that shows still photos of him. One shows his cruiser after it was smashed in the Feb. 1 collision.
“I was hit by a drunk driver in February of this year. This accident could have been prevented if this driver was not drinking and driving and obeying Virginia’s ‘Move Over’ law. This year, several troopers have been struck on Virginia’s highways. Remember if you see emergency vehicles stopped on the shoulder of the highway, you must change lanes away from the stopped emergency vehicle. If you cannot change lanes you must slow down and pass with caution. It’s not just a good idea, it’s Virginia law.”
Attendees at the Virginia State Fair under way through Oct. 5 can see the video versions of the PSA’s at a VSP exhibit. Those with Internet access can view them at http://www.vsp.state.va.us/PSA_SlowDownMoveOver_Transcript.shtm.
VSP say troopers are more concerned about being hit by cars than bullets. Either can be devastating, but traffic stops are more common than armed encounters for police officers.
The devastation of the crash that injured Chapman was frightening to Chilhowie Police Department Sgt. David Cullop, who’s been with the CPD for more than three years and was previously a Smyth County sheriff’s deputy. Cullop, who pulled Chapman from the wreckage, said last spring, “I was scared. I was very scared that night.”
For a month after the crash, he said, the scene would often replay in his mind. “It helped me when I got to see him, to see for myself that he was OK.”
“When I pulled him out of that car, I knew I had to do everything I could to save his life,” Cullop concluded.
In Smyth County General District Court on April 1, Barry Dean Marshall of Abingdon pleaded guilty to driving under the influence and public intoxication.
Police said Chapman had stopped another driver for a traffic violation and was parked on the right shoulder of I-81’s southbound lanes. Chapman had issued a traffic violation and was sitting in his car when Marshall rammed his pickup into the rear of his cruiser before Chapman had secured his safety belt.
At the hearing, Chapman shook Marshall’s hand. “I just told him that I thank him for manning up to his mistake,” Chapman said later said. “I just told him I continue to pray for him and his family.””
“I’d like to apologize to Trooper Chapman,” Marshall told the court, choking up as he spoke. “Really, I had no intention … I just thank you for your kindness.”
The radio and video PSA’s are the latest efforts in more than a year and a half of work by VSP to alert drivers of the Virginia law passed in six years ago to protect roadside officers. The first video shows dashboard-camera footage of a Virginia State Police trooper and a trooper-trainee being struck by a car running off the road in Henry County in July 2007.
This is not Chapman’s first work in promoting the law VSP says too few drivers know and heed. Six months after the crash, Chapman joined fellow law enforcement officials from around the commonwealth and John Marshall, the Virginia secretary of public safety, for the unveiling of three new signs intended to remind motorists of the Move Over law.
The signs appear along Interstates 81 and 77 where traffic enters Virginia from Tennessee, North Carolina and West Virginia.
Out of 40 states with a Move Over law, Virginia is among the harshest in enforcing it. Violators face a $2,500 fine and up to a year in jail. Despite the serious punishment, authorities say many motorists still fail to move over, possibly because they take for granted how potentially serious of a threat they are to others, Chapman said.
“A vehicle also at 2,000 some odd pounds can be used as a weapon very easily. Everyone gets in a car and moves out to their day-to-day lives, but nobody thinks of that car as being a potential weapon,” he said.
Marshall said the law also helps protect drivers.
“The vast majority of the time when a trooper is stopped on the side of the highway, a citizen either broke down on the side of the road or was involved in a crash or someone received a traffic stop. Ultimately, by keeping the cars off the police vehicle, we’re also making it safer for the citizens,” he said.
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