By John Celock
Kansas lawmakers passed legislation Monday that would allow the state to erect highway signs as memorials to those killed by drunk drivers.
The state House of Representatives gave unanimous approval to the legislation, inspired by the deaths of Maize High School alums Kyle Thornburg, 22, and Kylie Jobe, 20, who were killed by a drunk driver in a 2011 car accident. The bill will allow the state Department of Transportation to put up highway signs memorializing on state roads for those killed in similar accidents.
“Keep in mind the tragedy of an innocent life being lost,” Rep. Melissa Rooker (R-Fairway), who was carrying the bill, told her colleagues.
Rooker said the bill will allow for the families of those killed in such accidents to petition KDOT for the erection of the memorial sign, as long as their loved one was not committing a criminal act at the time of death. The signs would include the names and ages of the victims and would be placed as close as possible to the site of the accident. Rooker said the official accident reports would be used to determine eligibility.
Rooker recounted the details of the accident that claimed the lives of Thornburg and Jobe; along with the work their families have done since then to promote their memories. Thornburg and Jobe were killed while driving on I-70 in Ellsworth County when returning from a ski trip in Colorado. The driver of the other car, Joseph Pena, was driving the wrong way on I-70 at the time of the accident. Pena, who was also killed in the accident, was determined to have a blood alcohol level of .213 at the time of the accident.
Rooker noted that Thornburg and Jobe’s families have created the Run 2 Believe race in the Wichita area in order to honor their memories and help others. Funds from the race go to scholarship programs at Maize High School and Oklahoma State University, where Jobe was studying when she died. Thornburg had studied at Kansas State University and Butler Community College before his death.
“Proceeds have been used for the scholarship and alcohol awareness programs to educate high school students about the dangers of driving under the influence,” Rooker said.
Rep. Mark Hutton (R-Wichita) told his colleagues that the bill will help the entire state.
“This bill is about taking a tragedy that impacted not only impacted parents but an entire community,” he said. “This will turn it into a program that addresses DUIs in this state.”