COLUMBUS -- In early January 2014, Columbus Police Officer Judy Lawrence was dispatched to stretch of interstate in Ohio's capital city, where she stopped to talk to a disabled driver.
That's when, mid-sentence, another driver hit the stopped vehicle.
"I was thrown, and when I came to, I was underneath the vehicle," she said, adding that as a result, she had "three different surgeries, a broken leg, a broken ankle, fractured ribs, a spinal injury laceration on [my] forehead" and "about 18 months of physical therapy" before she could return to full duty.
Last December, Dayton police Officer Byron Branch responded to a multiple-vehicle accident on a highway in that city when he was hit and pinned against a guardrail.
"I recall waking up probably three days later," he said. " I was alreadyin three surgeries in by that time. They had removed my knee At that point I lost my leg."
The two officers spoke during a press conference at the Statehouse Wednesday, where they urged drivers to move over or slow down when encountering police and other emergency vehicles stopped on the side of the road.
It was part of a new public awareness effort by the Fraternal Order of Police of Ohio to draw attention to the issue, with lawmakers in the Ohio House planning legislation to increase penalties for drivers who fail to move over for stopped traffic.
"Too many police are being injured and killed in a completely senseless way, including one officer right here in Ohio earlier this year who was attempting to secure an accident scene," Jay McDonald, president of the Fraternal Order of Police of Ohio, said in a released statement. "We have to educate the public and encourage them to slow down and move over and we have to punish those whose thoughtless actions result in serious injury or death."
Drivers already are required to shift lanes or reduce speed and proceed with caution when approaching law enforcement, emergency responders and service vehicles with flashing lights parked along roadways.
But the penalty for not doing so is a minor misdemeanor. Bipartisan legislation being introduced in the Ohio House would increase that to a higher-level misdemeanor in cases involving accidents that cause injury or death.
McDonald said the Fraternal Order of Police of Ohio also is launching a series of public service announcements and other efforts to increase awareness of the issue. And he said letters have been sent to law enforcement agencies across the state asking for focused enforcement on motorists who fail to move over for stopped traffic.
"If you see an emergency vehicle beside the roadway, please move over or slow down," Lawrence said. "Because it's not [just] the person you're hitting, it's the family that's affected."
Rep. Tom Patton (R-Strongsville), a primary co-sponsor of the new House bill, added, "The only thing that I ask motorists in Ohio is to treat these people who are doing the people's work treat them like family, because they are somebody's family."
Marc Kovac covers the Ohio Statehouse for GateHouse Media. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.