LINCOLN, NE Derek Kieper was a smart, funny, intense young man who relished a good debate and would do anything for his friends.
Kieper, a 21-year-old senior at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, died early Tuesday morning when the Ford Explorer he was a passenger in travelled off an icy section of Interstate 80 and rolled several times in a ditch. Kieper, who was riding in the back seat of the Explorer, was ejected from the vehicle.
|Kieper, who was riding in the back seat, was ejected from the vehicle.|
The three men, members of the same UNL fraternity, were returning to Lincoln from San Antonio, Texas at the time of the accident, reported to authorities by a truck driver around 3 a.m.
"At this point in time, I'm in shock," Kieper's father, Paul Kieper, said in an interview Tuesday.
"He was a bright young boy, a 4.0," Paul Kieper said. "He loved to be silly. He loved to debate."
Paul Kieper said his son graduated from North Platte High School in 2002. When Derek Kieper came to Lincoln for college, the elder Kieper moved here, too.
Two others in the accident, who sustained non-life threatening injuries, had been wearing seat belts.
|Derek Kieper played on the defensive line for the North Platte High School football team, his father said. At UNL, Derek took on five majors history, psychology, economics, sociology and political science and had plans to attend law school.|
"He loved it," Paul Kieper said. "It was his first time with travel abroad."
Kade Pittman, a friend of Derek since seventh grade, said Derek was a true friend.
"He'd do anything for anybody," he said. "He was really funny, extremely intelligent. He'd tutor me in classes he didn't even take."
Pittman said he last saw Derek shortly before Derek headed off to Texas for Christmas break.
"It's really tragic," Pittman said. "He's really going to be missed."
Capt. Joe Lefler of the Lancaster County Sheriff's Office said Havermann was driving the Explorer east on the interstate near Northwest 48th Street when the vehicle went out of control on the ice-covered road. He said the vehicle travelled into the south ditch and rolled several times.
|Kieper had attacked seat belt laws as intrusions on individual liberties.|
Derek, who was thrown from the vehicle, was not wearing a seat belt, Lefler said. He said Havermann and Uphoff were wearing seat belts at the time.
In a column written for the Daily Nebraskan in September, Derek attacked seat belt laws as intrusions on individual liberties and expensive to enforce.
"It is my choice what type of safety precautions I take," he wrote.
"There seems to be a die-hard group of non-wearers out there who simply do not wish to buckle up no matter what the government does. I belong to this group."
Erica Rogers, opinion page editor at the Daily Nebraskan , said Derek's brains and intensity would be missed. Kieper and Rogers had lively political debates, she said.
"He had a Republican focus on economic issues," she said. "He was aggressive. He was really intense.
"He was a very engaging student. I'm sure UNL will be at a loss."
AFTERWORD: In His Own Words
|INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS BUCKLE UNDER SEAT BELT LAWS
by Derek Kieper
Daily Nebraskan (University of Nebraska-Lincoln)
I'm from the school of thought where everyone should have the right to do as they please as long as they are not infringing on the rights of other people. This comes from the political philosophy that inspired our founders and freedoms.
No law, or set of laws, has made the government more intrusive and ridiculous than seat belt legislation. Nothing is a bigger affront to the ideas of freedom, liberty, yada, yada, yada. Whether you are a pinko liberal or a right-wing whack job, there are plenty of reasons for just saying to hell with seat belt laws.
Democrats and Republicans alike should stand together to stop these laws that are incongruous with the ideals of both parties.
For Republicans, seat belt laws represent an enormous cost to the federal government. Perhaps the amount of money we spend on safety belts pails in comparison to our defense budget, but it still seems to be a ton of money to make a choice for a person.
The government budgets $13.4 million to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration through the U.S. Department of Transportation for educating the public about safety belt laws.
Remember the "Click It or Ticket" commercials you saw on TV this summer during the tourist season? Well, the government wasted millions on those ads to make sure you knew officer Joe Friendly was going to be pulling you over for not wearing your seat belt.
The government also dispenses $25 million in grants to local law enforcement to increase the usage rate of seat belts. Even the Lincoln Police Department got a grant to help enforce the safety belt laws lucky us.
Most ridiculous, though, is the $100 million doled out to states that have primary seat belt laws these are the laws that say you can be pulled over for simply not wearing your seat belt.
If one is doing the math, that is more than $138 million spent on seat belt laws. But the kicker is this: It is estimated, by researchers for Congress, that only 6,100 lives are saved per year because of new seat belt wearers. Moreover, the increase in the percentage of those who wear seat belts has leveled off.
For the states' righters of the right, this legislation represents another attempt by the federal government to step on the toes of the states. Not only does the federal government currently fund grants to increase usage, but bills are being debated that would punish those states that did not have seat belt laws, by withholding funding usurping the right of the state to decide its own safety laws.
What frightens me more about safety belt laws is the intrusion they represent to Americans. Democrats should take notice. Choice is an important aspect of freedom choice to do as I see fit with my body and being.
Yet, the government has decided that I do not have the choice to drive around without my seat belt. It is my choice what type of safety precautions I take. It is ridiculous to legislate actions that have no immediate effect on other individuals.
Telling me to wear my seat belt is the same as making sure I have some sort of proper education before diving into a swimming pool. If I want to dive in without knowing how to swim, that is my right. And if I want to be the jerk that flirts with death and rides around with my seat belt off, I should be able to do that, too.
If we regulate decisions that are personal and deal with safety, we very soon may be confronted with a slippery slope of legislation. What is next? Helmet laws for walkers? Kneepad regulations for office government interns? Or perhaps some sort of mandate for protective headgear for golfers will hit the law books in the future.
What should be most scary for those who love freedom and privacy is the government's consideration of a bill to punish all states that do not have primary seat belt laws.
Officers have enough reasons to pull us over in the first place. This just allows them to pull people over and give us citizens a good shakedown whenever we want. Does anyone else see a problem?
I'm sure college students would love to be pulled over and asked by the cops why they were not wearing their safety belt, and then maybe the police can catch a whiff of something that may or may not be there and searching ensues.
I can see now officers not being able to see your buckled belt as they pass you at night because it is dark so they pull you over to make sure. Simple enough, police do not need another reason to pull anyone over; they do it enough as it is.
All those who want the choice not to click have a few options. One is exempt with a doctor's note, or if pregnant. Or you can move to New Hampshire, the only state without a seat belt law. New Hampshire might be my bastion of choice some day, but for now I am stuck in Nebraska.
I just wish we could keep the government out of our pocketbooks and out of our personal decisions.