Holiday times bring back many memories, as do motor vehicle crashes, but when the two become one the consequences are devastating beyond repair, that holiday will never be the same. If you have ever received an email from me you may be curious as to why I have a photo of a child’s playhouse in my signature. To me it represents a story, a true holiday story. It includes two of my favorite people on this planet... and unfortunately a crash.
Dallas and Mary Dietrich are amazing people; they live where many wish they could, the Black Hills of South Dakota. In 1996, Dallas and Mary had just finished a picture perfect Christmas with their adult children; Deric, home from college, and Dawn, alon
g with her husband Joe, visiting from Florida. After a wonderful family time together all five where traveling down I90 when a terrible winter storm overtook them; Dallas at the wheel with Mary at his side and the rest in the back seat. Visibility was extremely poor, near white out conditions, so Dallas slowed to 35 mph and turned on his flashers, but none of this prevented the semi-truck driver, later estimated to be traveling at 75 mph, from crashing into the rear of their car. All three in the back, Deric, Dawn and Joe, their entire family, were killed; Dallas became a paraplegic. Mary was spared serious physical injury but the mental and emotional injuries are permanent, as she says, “They say that time heals…it doesn’t”.
I met them while on a trout fishing trip to the Hills years back. You could often find Dallas out front, in his wheel chair, squirting unsuspecting kids, and an occasional parent, with a hidden squirt gun, that the staff will only ‘refill’ if Mary isn’t around. Dallas, grew up an avid outdoorsman with skiing at the top of the list. In 1990 Dallas was recipient of President George Bush’s “Point of Light” award for his implementation of a program that provides winter recreational opportunities for the disabled, all before he knew he would one day join their ranks. Mary maintains a thriving cat rescue operation. They would have been the prefect grandparents.
Together they founded “Meeting the Need”; a camp that gives those with special needs an opportunity to enjoy the beauty of the Black Hills. In the middle of the camp is a small two story structure, I once asked Dallas if this might be the start of a playground? Dallas said “no” and I could detect both sadness and pride in his voice at the same time. He said his son, Deric, made it, all by himself, when he was just 9 years old. Dallas said he and Mary were always very proud of their kids and their display of great potential, even at very young ages. This child-built tower now serves as a monument to Deric, Dawn and Joe; a memorial to their giftedness, a display of parent’s pride…a symbol of potential tragically lost. They miss them dearly...daily.
So in my signature you see Deric’s playhouse...a constant reminder that parents should have their kids, not monuments to their memory.
I often tell the cops I work with, “When it comes to traffic enforcement; you are the final line of defense; if we don’t do it there is no other back up plan”. Please do all you can to prevent these unfortunate holiday stories...no one wants to write about them...no one wants to live them.
Southern Minnesota Law Enforcement Liaison
Minnesota Office of Traffic Safety