SALT LAKE CITY — Jamie Dangerfield clearly remembers the day when she asked her best friend Chelsie Hill, "Do you want to drive? Or do you want me to drive?"
Minutes later, they pulled into a parking lot going 5 mph and were hit from behind. Their car rolled and when it stopped, Hill was no longer in the passenger seat.
"She was gone," Dangerfield said. "I remember just rubbing the seat and just looking."
The force of that slow speed crash had thrown Hill out the sunroof. She wasn't wearing a seat belt.
"It was an unreal feeling," Dangerfield said, "and I think a whole wave of denial comes on and you think, there's no way and this couldn't happen."
The worst did happen. Hill didn't survive her injuries. The inseparable childhood friends were now torn apart by a split-second decision.
Dangerfield re-lives the moment intentionally by sharing her story. She is working with the Department of Transportation's Zero Fatalities initiative, hoping to spare other friends the same loss.
"If Chelsie had a chance to hear a story like hers, maybe she would have made a different decision about wearing her seat belt."
Chelsie Hill's parents, Clark and Debbie Hill, share the same message when they speak at high schools around Utah. No matter how slow you are driving or how close your destination, always wear a seat belt.
"I think if Chelsie had a chance to hear a story like hers, that maybe she would have made a different decision about wearing her seat belt," said Debbie.
The Hills have created a room in their home with photos, mementos, even Chelsie's running shoes. They say the loss never gets easier, it just gets different.
Lace Up to Buckle Up Chelsie Hill 5K
- Sept. 21
- 10 a.m.
- Hunter High School
4200 S. 5600 West
West Valley City
"For me, it's like someone who is an amputee learns to live without their arm or their leg," Debbie said. "You still go on, but it's different. You still find joy in life. But there is someone very important missing."
In the past three years since the crash, life has continued. The plans Dangerfield used to make with Hill are coming to pass. Just recently Dangerfield got married, without a bridesmaid. But during the ceremony Dangerfield kissed a sunflower and placed it on a reserved, empty chair dedicated for her best friend.
"The flower symbolized that she was there at the wedding," Dangerfield said.
She wants others to realize their decision to forego a seat belt can impact many lives.
"Just as Chelsie died, some people think, it's a small thing and that it's minor, and oh, it doesn't even really matter and doesn't affect me," Dangerfield said. "But it does affect you and it affects those around you."
The Hills are hearing from law enforcement and students that the seat belt presentations are changing behaviors. They hope that can be their daughter's lasting legacy.