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Amish safety committee update given

Buckingham Emergency Management Coordinator Cody Davis gave a presentation to the Buckingham County Board of Supervisors at the Jan. 13 board meeting regarding updates from the county’s Amish Safety Improvement Committee. The committee is amping up efforts to protect and spread awareness of Amish travelers on county roadways after a Dec. 20 accident involving a horse-drawn buggy that left an Amish county resident dead.

Cody Davis

Davis cited that the safety committee was formed last year in an effort to work with Buckingham’s Amish community in finding ways to improve the overall safety of both buggy drivers and county motorists.

During his presentation, he explained to the board that the committee had held two meetings thus far — one on Oct. 11, 2019 and one on Jan. 9 of this year.

Davis also cited that committee members include, notably, six members of the Amish community, including Bishop Stevie Stoltzfus, Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) representatives Scott Frederick and Anthony Rago, Virginia State Police representative Glenn Smith, Roger Jamerson of the Buckingham County Sheriff’s Office, Commonwealth’s Attorney E.M. Wright, Supervisor Robert Jones, County Administrator Rebecca S. Carter, Assistant County Administrator and Finance Director Karl Carter, citizen and fire and rescue representative John O’Bryant and Davis himself.

At the committee’s first meeting in October, Davis cited, no Amish committee members were able to attend. During that initial meeting, the safety committee was able to generate ideas to kick off an Amish safety campaign, such as increasing road signage portraying a horse and buggy countywide. Other concepts included public education campaigns, the use of a billboard, drivers education courses and the possible installation of buggy safety lanes. Members of the committee departed with plans to meet again in January.

Then, tragedy occurred in Buckingham County on Dec. 20 when a buggy traveling east on Route 60 was struck from behind by a 2015 Chevrolet Silverado pickup. John Yoder, 36, who was seated outside, was thrown from the buggy during the accident. Sylvia Yoder, 31, was transported to UVA Medical Center and succumbed to her injuries the following morning. Four children inside the buggy were also transported to the hospital for the treatment of serious injuries.

Following the accident, Buckingham County residents rallied around the Yoder family, making donations and providing support. The Amish Safety Improvement Committee gathered again Jan. 9 with the weight of a tragic accident on its shoulders.

Davis stated that at the January gathering, the question was raised, “What did everybody expect at this meeting?” He explained to the board, “Overall, the expectation was for us to work collaboratively to increase the safety of all population groups sharing the roadways of Buckingham County, remaining vigilant from imposing undue burden on any groups involved. So, more or less, we took a comprehensive approach to tackle safety not only in the Amish community, but farmer traffic and also runners, joggers and cyclists, but we also want to be sure that we’re not imposing things onto the Amish community … we’re not trying to be too strong-thumbed on anybody.”

Davis added that Amish community members, including Stoltzfus, were present at January’s meeting. With the accident fresh on everyone’s minds, the group worked together to brainstorm.

“The group worked well together,” Davis commented. He cited that the committee reviewed some suggestions put out by the Virginia Cooperative Extension on Amish buggy safety. He referenced a study done by Virginia Tech on the usage of specific reflectors and lights on horse-drawn buggies and carriages, as well as literature from the Farm Bureau regarding reflective slow-moving triangles displayed on the back of buggies.

Davis also referred to a previous comment made by a member of the public that there was no standard in reflector and light usage on buggies. “Like somebody earlier said, you’ve got some that look like a disco and some that you can’t see.”

The Amish representatives, according to Davis, were very open-minded about the concept of establishing a more uniform look to the devices used to increase visibility of buggies. “They are very receptive to polling their people and creating a minimum standard internally,” he said.

He added that the Amish county residents, while they had not asked for the formation of any committee or education campaign, were grateful for citizens’ concerns for their safety.

“All in all, what we took away from that meeting that we will really finalize at our March 5 meeting are a couple of things,” Davis added. “VDOT has the approval to increase those signs at the Sprouses Corner intersection, and then they are also open to considering more (signage) on the heavily trafficked secondary roads that, per the bishop (Stoltzfus), would be beneficial to everybody … So, in short, what we’re going to do is the comprehensive share the road campaign, which would entail some flyers to local businesses, some media releases, print media, social media, things like that, and then also probably a trifold flyer.”

Davis commented that the Amish representatives at the committee meeting were fond of the idea of a safety day. As a result, the committee secured itself a spot at Buckingham’s historic Mayfest, which will be held May 9. He later elaborated that at Mayfest, the group is hoping to distribute informational literature on road safety and possibly have both Amish and first responder representation to greet residents and answer questions.

Wrapping up his presentation, Davis referenced that Supervisor Jones had taken it upon himself to have stickers made that could be utilized to pursue the education campaign.

“One of the biggest problems that we have at this time is that the highway department says that a lot more signs cause people not to pay attention,” commented Jones. “The more signs, the less attention. To that, I’ll say, ‘b.s.,’ because I don’t believe that … We’ve had three accidents (involving buggies). All three of them have been in daylight. So, what does that say? To me, that says that we need to make people aware in daylight more than what we have so far. Whether it helps or not, it certainly can’t hurt.”

He continued, “So I went to a source, and that’s when I came up with these stickers.”

Jones then held up a sheet of stickers depicting a horse-drawn buggy.

“I intend to go to every logger that does business in Buckingham County and get them to put a sticker on every vehicle that they have, whether it’s on the sun visor, whether it’s on the dash or whatever,” he said. “Occasionally, during the day or several days, you’re going to see that. It’s going to make you, to me, aware more so that this is going on in the county. We have more (Amish people) coming into the county all the time. The bishops, they know how many are coming, and it’s a lot of them.”

Jones ended the discussion by referencing his belief that the signs warning motorists to look out for Amish buggies in Cumberland County were larger and brighter than those in Buckingham County. “I am going to check into that,” he said.