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Trooper begs drivers to follow law after 'out-of-body experience'

Posted at 6:37 PM, Oct 21, 2022

RICHMOND, Va. -- Several Virginia agencies came together Friday to spread a single message to drivers on the Commonwealth's highways: "slow down, move over".

Those agencies included the Virginia State Police (VSP), AAA Mid-Atlantic, Richmond Ambulance Authority, and the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT).

The event came six days after National Move Over Day where drivers were encouraged to move over when approaching flashing blue, red, or amber lights and slow down if they cannot change lanes.

Among those who gathered at a rest stop on I-64 in Goochland County was Sgt. Steven Sclafani, knows firsthand what a failure to move over could lead to.

Sclafani said he was conducting a traffic stop around 1:30 a.m. on Nov. 9, 2009, a few miles from the rest stop, and was sitting in his police cruiser writing a summons when it was hit from behind.

"Next thing I know, I was in a helicopter, unconscious, and going to MCV woke up," said Sclafani. "From what I remember, it was kind of an out-of-body experience. I'll be honest, I thought I was dead. I thought I was paralyzed. I couldn't move."

Sclafani said he was able to recover and return to VSP, but still feels the effects of the crash.

"There's not a day goes by that I don't think about it or, especially, when I'm working out here on the road now. I think I'm more afraid to get hit by a car than I am about other things happening to me," added Sclafani. "This is why this campaign is very important to me."

Joining Sclafani was also joined by Christopher Rusk, an Incident Management Coordinator with VDOT, whose job it is to respond to crash scenes and set up a perimeter to make sure there are no subsequent crashes.

"Close calls are fairly routine. Within just the Richmond District alone we tend to have at least one struck-by incident-- because of a move-over failure -- per month. We have had employees hurt and we've had one contractor killed several years ago," said Rusk. "Within the last month, we had two contractors in two separate incidents the same night, seriously injured."

A third person speaking Friday was Melanie Clark, whose husband, Hanover Fire Lt. Brad Clark was killed when a tractor-trailer crashed into the accident scene Clark was responding to on I-295 in 2018.

"It's so important because Brad died saving his crew. And for us, it's almost just as important for us to make sure that his crew is still protected," said Clark, who has become an advocate of stronger "Move Over" laws since his death. "We feel like if we make it a personal connection between the firefighter, the police officer, the tow truck driver that's working…hopefully there's a better chance that motorists will follow the 'Move Over' law and prevent something like this happening to their family."

Virginia's "Move Over" law requires drivers on a highway approaching stationary flashing blue, red, or amber lights to move into a lane that is further away, but if not reasonable or safe to do so then to proceed with caution and travel at a safe speed.

Similar laws exist across the country, but FEMA reported that 65 emergency responders were killed while assisting others on the roadway in 2021. Clark said seeing those cases continue to happen is traumatic.

"It honestly makes my stomach turn, it's an immediate reliving what I've gone through, especially if there's a fatality involved," added Clark.

Clark, Ruck, and Sclafani said their message is the same at the end of the day.

"When there's someone on the shoulder, give them plenty of room, slow down and just try to be safe for everybody's safety," said Ruck.

"It's just being considerate, give them a lane to work, slow down, move over, and be a good motorist and a decent human," added Clark.

"First responders have families, too, and we want to go home at night. And I think that's the main thing that I want people to get out of this is that we are people, too, and we're there to help them and if we can't be there to help them -- then nobody is," said Sclafani. "Everyone's going to go home safe if everyone just follows that law."

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