Ignore rules at your own risk

It would seem to be an easy decision to make: Don’t drive around barricades and onto water-covered roads.

And yet ...

We have seen numerous incidents this spring of vehicles stalled in water after the driver ignored a barricade and warning sign and drove across roads he or she couldn’t see. The road may have been washed out, or the water was faster and more powerful than people expected.

People don’t understand the physics of the matter. Water may appear to be covering just a few inches of the road surface, but it can sweep an SUV, truck, pickup or car away in mere seconds. Once a vehicle is floating, putting the pedal to the metal won’t do much good. There have been numerous reports across the Midwest of rescues, with photos of people standing atop their vehicles, waiting for help to arrive.

But still drivers ignore the barricades and plunge ahead.

Flooding in eastern South Dakota caused the city of Sioux Falls to close its signature attraction, Falls Park, and other recreational areas along the rampaging Big Sioux River. But the police ended up issuing more than 40 citations for people who went around barricades and refused to obey signs announcing the closures.

One addled woman, who later was found to have meth on her, was in the water around 11 p.m. one night. She had called 911, saying her wife was struggling in the water. Emergency responders searched until they started to grasp what the true story was — the supposed endangered woman was actually in Texas.

The woman who made the false report was arrested and jailed. That’s where a lot of these fools belong, in my view. They are not just breaking the law, they are placing the people who are called to save them at great risk.

I remember in 1990s, when a raging blizzard virtually shut down the entire state of South Dakota, then-Gov. Bill Janklow told me for a news story that he would not allow the Highway Patrol or other emergency responders to assist people who drove around signs closing Interstate Highways 90 and 29. If people thought a cell phone call would pluck from from their self-inflicted emergency, Janklow said they were mistaken.

That’s a tough decision, but it also seemed fair. If you were dumb enough to drive around a barrier and onto a highway in white-out blizzard conditions, you’d better be ready to face the consequences. 

The Grand Canyon is one of the most majestic sites in earth, and people from across the globe visit there. In 2018, 6.38 million people stared at, shot photos and videos and toured the massive region, which is 277 miles long, 18 miles wide in sections and an amazing mile deep in some areas. Some won’t make it back. In 2018, 17 people died at the Grand Canyon, and this year is on pace to match that, with three people dying in falls over an eight-day period this spring.

They wanted to capture the perfect image, to get closer to this natural wonder, to see something that others would miss. It was a risk most took without realizing the possible deadly consequences.

The Grand Canyon has dazzled millions, but at least 800 people have died, more than 100 from falls.

Yellowstone National Park is another of America’s most famous and popular national parks. It also is one of the deadliest, with more than 20 people dying in the hot water, which in some cases has a high acidic content.

Colin Nathaniel Scott of Portland, Ore., was perhaps the most frightening example. Scott and his sister Sable went off the boardwalk and walked near an acidic hot spring near Porkchop Geyser on June 7, 2016. Scott slipped into a pool of water that was later measured at more than 200 degrees, as his horrified sister used her cell phone to record the attempt to go “hot potting” in the water.

She could not help him out and when rangers responded, he was already dead. By the time vrecovery efforts were mounted the next day, Scott’s body had dissolved. Only his wallet and flip-flops were recovered.

Yellowstone’s chief safety officer, Brandon Gauthier, said the park is a very dangerous place — especially if people don’t obey warnings or adhere to rules.

“There are many risks in Yellowstone,” Gauthier said in a post on the park’s website. “It’s something you’ve got to respect and pay attention to.”

That’s what it comes down to, following the rules. For a lot of people, those are simply advisories, not firm commands. So they keep driving around barricades, playing on slippery rocks near fast-moving water, crossing railroad tracks as trains bear down on them and stepping far too close to the edge of a mile-deep canyon.

In some cases, they never learn their lesson. The rest of us can, however, before it’s too late.

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