It was Nov. 20, 2012. Mary Litterer had all the makings of Thanksgiving dinner in the trunk of her Lincoln Continental as she drove west on the Avenue of the Saints from Charles City. When she neared the intersection near Floyd going 60 miles per hour, life changed in an instant.
“I can’t figure out how he didn’t see me,” said Mary of the 76-year-old driver who crossed her path. “It was 6 p.m. in November, so it was dark, but he had to have seen my headlights coming at him when he entered the intersection.”
Although she had only seconds to react before crashing broadside into the van that was crossing in front of her, she said, “All I could think about was trying to miss the driver’s side door so the crash wouldn’t kill the driver.”
At impact, Litterer’s car hit the van behind the driver’s side door. The van’s side impact airbags went off, as did Litterer’s front airbags. His van spun 360 degrees in the road. She said, “We were both wearing seatbelts and so was his wife who was in the passenger seat. The seatbelts kept us in our cars and I think that was the reason we all got out of this crash alive. The airbags definitely helped, but I see them more as just added insurance.”
Litterer suffered a leg injury and a pretty significant head injury in the crash. Mary said, “I can’t even describe what it feels like. Your brain is just scrambled. I felt like I was in a fog for a couple of weeks. I didn’t hit my head on anything in the car, but the impact of hitting his van at 60 miles an hour caused my brain to be injured from the inside. Between that and having surgery on my knee from that injury, I was out of work for five months.”
Before the crash Litterer says she always wore her seat belt and required those in her vehicle to do the same. She became an even stronger advocate after her brother was killed in a crash in March 2013. She said, “He wasn’t wearing a seat belt and was ejected when he crashed south of Rudd. His vehicle landed on him and he didn’t survive.”
Since her crash and the death of her brother, Litterer has ramped up her vocal support of seat belt use. Now the grandmother of 11, Litterer says her car doesn’t move until everyone is buckled up. “That doesn’t matter if you’re in the front seat or the back seat. Everyone clicks that belt before we go anywhere.”
A recent study shows Iowa’s overall seat belt usage rate is 91.4 percent. While that number may seem high, there is still the glaring fact that about 43 percent of those killed on Iowa highways last year weren’t wearing seat belts.