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Buckle up for holiday driving: Live to see 2013

Brian Frank, a bouncer at Boomer's bar in River Falls, survived a rollover this fall of his 2003 Buick La Sabre. Getting a seat-belt ticket just before the crash likely proved to be a life saver. Said Frank: "I would say I learned from the crash that life is too short not to follow a simple law that could save your life. I was able to experience that firsthand." <i>Submitted photos</i>

People don't thank a cop for giving them a ticket. Especially during bar closing as police respond for a disturbance complaint.

But that's what happened last month to River Falls patrol officer Bryant Ekstrom.

Only a few loud drunks were found milling around on this particular Friday night on Main Street. But no disturbance to break up.

Ekstrom and fellow officer Paul Jensen prepared to clear the scene.

Before they did, a bar employee rushed up.

He pointed out a potential troublemaker, then looked again at Ekstrom, saying, 'Hey, you're the cop who gave me that seatbelt ticket.'

The man making the statement -- maybe 6-2, 280 pounds -- towered over Ekstrom who suddenly recognized the man.

Ekstrom had ticketed the man weeks earlier for "Vehicle Operator Fail To Wear Seat Belt."

Ekstrom said he hoped the man had remembered to buckle up.

The man replied that he had -- that doing so was the reason he was still alive to talk about his most-unfortunate car wreck.

As Ekstrom cleared from the downtown that night, he said he felt pretty good.

"You rarely hear of positive outcomes of your actions," he said.

The man who thanked Ekstrom was 21-year-old Brian Frank, a Main Street bouncer at Boomer's.

Frank said the seatbelt ticket was a blessing. It changed his habits -- changed them just in time so that he survived a rollover crash.

"I swerved to miss a guy that had merged into my lane, unannounced, and ended up rolling it three times," Frank said.

"Wearing a seatbelt is a priority for me now because the sheriff who helped me when I crashed said if the seatbelt hadn't pinned me down into and against the seat, my head would have been crushed if my car would have rolled another time," Frank added: "If that didn't get me, I would have been ejected through the front windshield...(But) I walked away scot free."

Positive outcomes and awareness is why Sgt. Janis Bock says River Falls police will again join the annual statewide law enforcement effort from Dec. 7-16 called "Booze and Belts."

The Wisconsin traffic safety campaign is meant to reduce deaths and injuries during the busy winter holidays.

"The thought is that it ups community awareness to these issues through a blitz of media and a focus on enforcement," Bock said. "It's not that we are doing anything different in our enforcement, but four times a year we put out a reminder that we are out there 24/7 enforcing seatbelt and drunk-driving laws.

"It is done during holiday seasons because statistics show that these are times of the year with above-normal crash numbers....lots of people on the road."

For more on this story, please see the Dec. 6 print edition of the River Falls Journal.