WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — A Sedgwick County woman is helping to put a face on a grim statistic. Her father, Kevin Williams, died when a drunk driver hit his vehicle. His family lives with the pain of his loss every day.

“It’s been over 10 years, and I still cry every day,” Whitney Kallenbach said. “There’s still a piece of me that will always be missing.”

Kallenbach is part of a new Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT) initiative to reduce fatal crashes in Sedgwick County. The campaign is “Drive Safe Sedgwick.”

The 64 traffic deaths in Sedgwick County in 2020 gave the county an unwanted designation — the highest number of fatalities of any county in the state. It was also more than twice the other top counties, Johnson and Wyandotte, combined. KDOT said 64 also ranks as one of the highest in the Midwest compared to counties of similar size.

In five years (2016-2020), 305 people died in traffic crashes in Sedgwick County. In addition, more than 900 people had suspected serious injuries.

Chris Bortz, KDOT’s assistant bureau chief of transportation safety, believes many crashes and deaths are avoidable. He wants people to stop driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs, put away distractions while driving, and wear seat belts.

“Crashes are not accidents,” Bortz said. “Accident implies that nothing could have prevented the crash. Nearly all suspected injury and fatal crashes are the result of a driver not following the rules of the road. This poor driving behavior places everyone on the road at risk.”

According to Bortz, 23% of all fatality crashes in Sedgwick County involved alcohol. And between 2017 and 2018, over 41% of all passengers in Sedgwick County fatalities were not wearing seat belts.

“Follow the simple rules. Never drive impaired. Always buckle up. Don’t speed. Eliminate, not just reduce, eliminate distractions. Be a good passenger. If you see that a driver is on their phone or not acting appropriately, say something, have them pull over,” Bortz said.

“Now is the time to make a change for the better,” he said. “It’s time to start a dialogue with your loved ones about safe driving.”

Daughter dedicated to her father

Whitney Kallenbach was a junior in high school in the fall of 2008. She was watching Disney movies with a friend when her sister-in-law called and asked if she had heard from her dad. The sister-in-law had heard about a wreck at K-42 and Hoover and was worried about him.

Whitney Kallenbach talks about her father, who died in a fatal crash in Sedgwick County. On May 11, 2022, KDOT and law enforcement announced an initiative to reduce fatal crashes in Sedgwick County. (KSN Photo)

Kallenbach started to get worried, too, as time ticked away. Finally, her mom went to the scene. Kallenbach called her mom to see what she had learned.

“When a friend of ours answered the phone, I could hear in the background sirens and screams and all sorts of chaos and her telling me he didn’t make it,” she said. “My world shattered.”

Kallenbach said her father had been on his motorcycle. He had a green light and was turning left onto Hoover when a pickup driver ran a red light and hit him.

“He didn’t even tap the breaks.”

She said the other driver had taken prescription drugs and drank alcohol. Officials caught the pickup driver thanks to someone who followed him.

“This has been very difficult for my family and I to go through,” Kallenbach said. “My dad was the glue that held us all together, and we didn’t know that until the glue was no longer there. This was a crash that could’ve been 100% preventable.”

She credits the DUI Victims Center of Kansas with helping her family.

“They have been there for my family from the very beginning, and they are amazing people,” she said. “If it wasn’t for them, I’m not sure where I would be today.”

Kallenbach now volunteers at the center.

“My dad always taught me to find the good in every situation, and this is why I do this, and this is my good, and this is why I tell my story.”

Her message is to drive sober or have a sober driver.

“Mistakes happen but don’t let this be your mistake,” she said. “My dad was always the happy person in the room, and he loved everyone. Don’t do this to somebody else. It’s not worth it.”

Drive Safe Sedgwick

Sedgwick County residents can visit the website — DriveSafeSedgwick.com — to learn about vehicle safety. The website emphasizes seat belt use among all passengers, not driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, not texting or otherwise being distracted and obeying speed limits.

KDOT’s “Drive Safe Sedgwick” campaign is funded by federal traffic safety funds administered by the agency. The public awareness initiative runs concurrently with a media campaign reminding motorists they can be fined or jailed for certain traffic violations.

For more information about safe driving, visit the Kansas Traffic Safety Resource Office website by clicking here.