The 1st Congressional District Republican's Wednesday meeting in Bellevue mostly was dominated by disagreements about issues such as health care, the federal income tax overhaul and racism.
An Omaha woman whose parents died of carbon monoxide poisoning is headed to Washington, D.C., in her crusade to save others from the same fate.
Sharon Shore, 47, brought the issue to the attention of Rep. Jeff Fortenberry at a recent town hall — and the congressman has taken up the cause.
Shore’s parents, Thomas and Ann MacKinnon, died in June a few days before her 80th birthday.
They were scheduled to go on a cruise. Instead, their bodies were found almost two weeks later.
Her mother had parked their car in the garage. But it appeared after the fact that she’d forgotten to press the button to turn off the keyless car.
The car had no automatic shut-off, so their home filled with carbon monoxide.
“They had these long lives,” Shore said. “They had all these plans. They did so much. Then it’s over because of 30 seconds of distraction.”
Keyless cars still have a key fob to open the door. But instead of putting in a key to start the car, the driver presses a button to turn it off and on. As long as the key fob is in the car, it will start.
Edmunds, a resource for automotive information, reported that keyless ignition vehicles have risen dramatically in popularity: In 2008, they represented 11% of cars sold in the U.S. Last year, that rose to 62%.
Some keyless cars will automatically turn off if a driver walks away with the fob. Others, like the one Ann MacKinnon left parked in the attached garage, don’t have that feature. So Shore said it appeared that the car kept running until it ran out of gas.
The first known carbon monoxide poisoning due to a keyless ignition was in 2006, according to the New York Times.
Safety advocates, such as KidsandCars.org, have long pushed for more regulations, such as a requirement that manufacturers provide an automatic shut-off when the car has been idling for a period of time.
But industry groups, such as the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, have argued that regulations are not needed to address the issue. The alliance focus is on uniform labeling so consumers understand how the keyless system in their cars function.
Shore got Fortenberry’s attention at the town hall.
The 1st Congressional District Republican's Wednesday meeting in Bellevue mostly was dominated by disagreements about issues such as health care, the federal income tax overhaul and racism.
She wanted him to support a bill known as the PARK IT (Protecting Americans from the Risks of Keyless Ignition Technology) Act. Among its requirements would be automatic shut-offs.
And Fortenberry agreed and signed on as a co-sponsor to the bill.
“I believe it is solid, smart legislation that deserves wide support,” he said in his column, the Fort Report. “It may not even require passage for the bill to achieve its intended result.”
Some automakers have made the switch — Toyota announced this year that it will include an automatic shut-off on its 2020 models.
Fortenberry said at least 37 people in the U.S. have died in a similar way.
Now Shore wants to expand the effort to the rest of Nebraska’s congressional delegation and to Washington.
She’s taken a month off her job at PayPal and has a binder devoted to information about other similar deaths.
Fortenberry invited her to speak at the weekly breakfast in D.C. hosted by the Nebraska delegation for visiting constituents.
Shore is hoping to reach out to other families of people who have had similar incidents to lobby their own congressional representatives.
Shore said she hopes that nothing like this ever happens to someone else.
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“This is a really good opportunity to see something from start to finish and do something so my parents’ death wasn’t meaningless,” Shore said.
Ann and Thomas MacKinnon were married for 52 years. Thomas MacKinnon served in the military and later worked at the post office. Ann worked at a hospital.
Thomas had multiple sclerosis, but that didn’t stop the couple from traveling the world and seeing every continent.
He loved bad jokes, and they loved each other.
For 13 days, Shore thought her parents were on a cruise. But their bodies were in their house in Bellevue.
“They just deserved a lot better than to be found that way,” Shore said.
Rick Addink can’t imagine leaving the town and house he’s lived in, on and off, since he was 3 years old.
It might sound silly, he says, his voice sounding a little sheepish, but he’s got a sentimental attachment to the white house built in the late 1930s.
He promised his mother he’d take care of it. It has a wheelchair ramp for his disabled wife. He enjoys the privacy and the rural feel of Winslow, a tiny gravel-road village in Dodge County about 12 miles north of Fremont. Settled on a railroad line near the Elkhorn River, it’s surrounded by lush fields of soybeans and corn.
There is one major drawback to life in Winslow, and that’s what has brought Addink and the entire village to the brink of a very big decision.
One in 1996 brought water inside town and into basements, but it was nothing like the surge of water that clobbered Winslow in mid-March, when historic flooding struck parts of central and eastern Nebraska.
The swollen Elkhorn River flowed over a levee built in the early 2000s to protect the town from the river, damaging virtually every structure in town — all 48 buildings. Some homes took on several feet of water that tossed furniture around, fried electrical wires and left behind mold and mildew.
So now the residents of this little village — where the population that hovered around 100 before disaster struck — are pondering a pivotal question about its future.
In order to survive, should the flood-prone town follow in the footsteps of Niobrara — which has moved twice, once in 1881 and again in the 1970s — and just pack up and move to higher ground?
After ice jams and Missouri River flooding submerged the town in 1881, historical photos show residents moving houses on wheels pulled by horses to higher ground a mile-and-a-half away. Then the village moved again in the 1970s.
Town leaders in Winslow, led by Volunteer Fire Department Chief and Village Trustee Zachary Klein, have proposed the out-of-the-box idea: moving Winslow out of the flood plain that has brought destruction, heartache and piles of federal paperwork to a new site, possibly a hilltop about 2 miles away.
State officials said that as far as they know, no other flood-ravaged Nebraska towns are exploring relocation.
“We’ve not done this before,” said Dan Curran, the deputy director of programs for the Nebraska Department of Economic Development. “How do we look at structures, look at our infrastructure and make sure whatever money we’re putting into it prevents it from happening again? We don’t want to be in the same place next year.”
It’s a complex proposal that will require consensus among Winslow residents, some of whom, like Addink, don’t want to move, a patchwork of funding from state, federal and local sources and some really big trailers to transport houses that are structurally sound enough to survive a move.
“I’m going to fight until I run into the last ‘no,’ ” said Klein, who was born and raised in Winslow. “There’s no reason for this community to go away, if there’s an alternative that will work.”
It’s been done before, largely successfully, in Niobrara; Valmeyer, Illinois; and Pattonsburg, Missouri. But relocation can be a long, drawn-out operation involving site surveys, land acquisition, appraisals, millions of dollars and no small amount of persuasion.
“That’s a pretty daunting process, trying to relocate,” said Bryan Tuma, assistant director of the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency. “We’ll just stand by and try to work with them.”
Other heavily flooded towns, including Pacific Junction and Hamburg in Iowa, are considering buyouts of flood-prone properties. Over the past three decades, federal and local governments have spent more than $5 billion buying tens of thousands of properties vulnerable to flooding, according to an Associated Press analysis of data from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
At a sometimes-tense community meeting in the firehouse one sweltering night last month, Winslow residents fanned themselves and drank from cans of pop and Busch Light as they peppered Klein with questions: How long would it take to relocate? How much of the cost would be covered? Who might stay, and who might go?
“It’s a cluster****,” resident Ed Nelson said after the meeting. “Excuse my French. There’s too many questions and not enough answers.”
Still, Nelson is leaning toward relocating because he’s not sure he wants to be left behind. “I’m going to keep my options open,” he said last week.
At these meetings, residents have been presented with three options by Klein:
Excess lots would be sold for new homes, helping Dodge County’s current housing shortage and hopefully boosting Winslow’s population and tax base.
Owners whose properties were substantially damaged — meaning the costs of repairs would exceed 50% of the building’s pre-disaster value — would most likely be required to elevate their homes or businesses by a foot or more to prevent future flood damage, a calculation called base flood elevation. That option is unpopular — raising a structure typically costs thousands of dollars, while adding little to a home’s resale value.
Voluntary buyout application forms were passed out at a meeting last week. In a perfect world, the first house could be ready to move by fall 2020, Klein said.
Several residents are skeptical that government can move that quickly and fear that recovery could drag on for years.
“A lot of people left their homes and aren’t going to wait around,” Bev Heinke said.
After the July meeting, Klein said about 50% of residents — maybe 25 households — seem willing to relocate. A handful of families have indicated that they’d like to remain and the rest are undecided or might just take a buyout and leave Winslow for good.
Marcus Wagner, whose family owns Smiley’s Bar, one of Winslow’s only businesses, (“Voted Winslow’s #1 bar,” its sign boasts) can’t imagine the cruel irony of rebuilding and then getting hit by floodwaters again. The bar has been closed since March.
“We love the idea of relocating Winslow and Smiley’s to higher ground,” Wagner wrote in an email. “Staying at our current location could put us back in harm’s way and we really don’t want to go through this experience again.”
Don Heinke has lived in Winslow for 32 years and said there’s no way his tidy concrete block house could be moved — it’s too heavy. And he can’t understand why different government entities would spend money to buy land, plat a new town, construct roads, install utilities and move houses. Why start over when those things already exist in Winslow?
“Why in the heck can’t they put a 100-year dike around town, make it a little higher, a little wider, put better floodgates in?” he said. “We don’t have to move this town.”
During a back-and-forth with Heinke at the July meeting, Klein said a bigger and better levee won’t happen.
“FEMA is not fixing levees,” Klein said. “They will not put money in levees. You know why? Because they fail.”
While assuring residents that the decision is theirs, Klein has outlined the choices in stark terms.
Winslow will not be able to limp along much longer in its present state. Only 10 or so families have moved back since March, and the village has always been one busted water main away from financial ruin, he said. The unpaved roads, never in great shape, are torn up and pitted with white rock. While some yards are neatly mowed, others are growing wild with weeds, and residents say some of the houses that have been red-tagged — deemed uninhabitable after the flood — appear virtually abandoned. The post office is boarded up and mail now goes to Hooper.
The assessed value of all the property in the town is about $2.7 million, and Winslow has the highest property tax rate in Dodge County, at about $3.82 per $100 assessed value. (A chunk of that goes to paying off the levee that overtopped in March.) For comparison, the rate in the much-larger city of Fremont is $2.08.
“There’s two inevitable outcomes for the village: One, we can get the relocation done and we can move the incorporation to a new site and we can make a hell of a go of it up there,” Klein told residents.
“If that doesn’t happen, the village incorporation as it stands is done,” he continued. “There is not going to be enough tax revenue in the village with the houses that are left. We’re not going to be able to afford to run.”
The homes in Winslow are modest, with many valued at $30,000 to $70,000. Some residents are on fixed incomes and expressed doubt that they could afford to move elsewhere or build new, even with FEMA aid or insurance payouts.
Addink, whose mortgage is paid off, said he looked at modular homes. The least-expensive, a 1,000-square-foot model with nothing inside, cost $80,000.
“If you’re offered $60,000 or $70,000 for your house for a buyout, you’d still have to get a mortgage for a modular,” he said. “That made our decision pretty much finalized.”
The cheaper option, he said, is for him and his neighbors — Heinke and Ralph Weatherly — to stay and split the cost of installing a shared septic tank and well.
Klein has been working with an alphabet soup of community, government and lending agencies, including NEMA, FEMA, Dodge County, the Nebraska Department of Economic Development and the Northeast Nebraska Economic Development District. Between hazard mitigation funds, grants, private donations and village-issued bonds for infrastructure, he’s hoping that much of the relocation costs could be covered.
“We’re going to try to get as close to that 100% as we possibly can,” he said.
Tuma said investing in prevention measures, which include buyouts and relocation, can pay off in the long run, saving property owners and taxpayers millions of dollars in future disaster costs.
Nicholas Pinter, a geology professor at the University of California, Davis, studies towns that relocate after flooding, including communities in upstate New York and Missouri, with a focus on how relocation affects community ties. Grantham in Australia pulled off a move in a record 13 months after a fatal flood in 2011. In America, it often takes three years or more.
Winslow isn’t the first and won’t be the last to explore relocation, especially as extreme weather accelerates, he said.
“There’s a wealth of lessons to be learned, and people to talk to who have been through this who can really help get the community through some of the tough steps it would take to make this a success,” he said. “Every single successful relocation, by any definition we’ve looked at, takes one or more strong leaders with a sense of almost manifest destiny to make this happen.”
Still, state and local officials cautioned that the needs in Nebraska are huge after multiple rounds of flooding in the spring and summer, and the pot of money available to help communities rebound is not infinite.
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“We don’t have enough money to do it all; nobody does,” said Lowell Schroeder, a community planner with the Northeast Nebraska Economic Development District. The organization has applied for a $550,000 grant, which includes matching funds, to rehab flooded homes in Dodge County, which could include Winslow.
Resident Ken Rice said he has no reason to doubt Klein, but he’d like to see some commitments in writing from state or federal officials. “If they’ll move everything for free, no money out of my pocket, please.”
But as the questions over funding and logistics get sorted out, several residents said it feels like they’re stuck in limbo. Should they fix up their house, only to have it jostled during a move? Should they take a buyout and not wait around for a relocation that could be years away?
“It’s been since March and we still don’t know definitely what’s happening,” said Weatherly, who has lived in his slate-blue farmhouse with his wife, Lana, since 1997. Eighteen inches of water ruined the flooring and drywall, damage that one adjuster estimated at $72,000, not counting ruined furniture and appliances. The house is assessed for tax purposes at about $65,000. “You just kind of feel like you’ve been left out on this island.”
“And you don’t know when the boat’s coming back,” Addink added.
Nilene Parker, who’s renting an apartment in Scribner while she repairs her house, said it seemed like local officials jumped quickly to relocation as the answer to Winslow’s problems. But she’s all for whatever helps residents get back on their feet the fastest.
“In the end, we all just want to get our homes back, and I don’t care how they do it,” she said.
So Parker has ripped up her first floor, tossing insulation and drywall into a dumpster outside, and plans to close up most of her house. Waiting for relocation, she’ll live out of four rooms, using window air conditioners and space heaters to get by. Once her house is moved, she’ll finish remodeling.
“I just want to put the flood behind us,” she said. “I’m so tired of mud and dirt. I’m so tired of thoughts and prayers. Thoughts and prayers don’t put my drywall and electrical and floors back.”
Since the turn of the century, more Americans have died in car crashes than did in both world wars, and the overwhelming majority of the wrecks were caused by speeding, drunken or distracted drivers, according to government data.
"Where's the social outrage? There should be social outrage," said Robert Sumwalt, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board.
By contrast, data shows that the opioid epidemic killed nearly 100,000 people between 2006 and 2012. During the same time frame, speeding, drunken and distracted driving caused 190,455 deaths.
In automotive circles, it's common to hear that 94%ofcarcrashes are caused by human error, a fact provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and often used as a preamble when people discuss the coming era of driverless vehicles. And when the NTSB put out its "Most Wanted List" of transportation safety improvements this year, three of the 10 concerned distracted, speeding and drunken driving.
Fatal crashes or injuries that fall into those categories are, simply put, driver stupidity. The driver has taken an act — glancing at a cellphone, rushing to get somewhere or down the roadway for thrills, or drinking too much — that causes a crash with fatal consequences.
Taken collectively, the numbers since January 2000 are stark.
More than 624,000 people died in car crashes, easily eclipsing the 535,000 American military personnel who died in World War I and World War II. More than 30 million people were injured in those crashes.
In almost 213,000 of those fatal crashes through 2017, the most recent year available, the drivers were above the legal threshold for drunken driving — a blood-alcohol content of .08%. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports that a decline in drunken driving crashes slowed in the mid-1990s.
More than 197,000 people died as the result of speeding since the turn of the century. And close to 78,000 people have died in crashes caused by distracted driving since 2000, according to research by the American Public Health Association and NHTSA data. According to the NHTSA, during daylight hours, 481,000 drivers are using their cellphones.
"Unfortunately, our public option research has repeatedly shown that people still believe it will happen to someone else, but not to them," said Maureen Vogel of the National Safety Council.
Although seat belts first were mandated in 1968, and nearly 89% of people involved in fatal crashes were using them, more than 220,000 of people killed since 2000 were not.
And cellphone use while driving caused 800 deaths in 2017. Most of those using them are talking rather than texting or dealing with emails, according to a pair of IIHS reports this year.
"While most recognize the dangers created by taking your eyes off the road, they engage in distracting behaviors anyway, creating a 'Do as I say, not as I do' culture on the roadway," said Jake Nelson, AAA's director of traffic safety advocacy.
NTSB Vice Chairman Bruce Landsberg is more blunt about distraction.
"Multitasking does two things. It makes you stupid, one, and it makes you dangerous," he said.
The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety determined that those who talk on a cellphone while driving are four times more likely to crash, and those who text and drive are up to eight times more likely to crash. The number of drivers who say they talk on their cellphones regularly or fairly often while driving has jumped 46% since 2013, according to the foundation.
And nodding off has caused more than 10,000 deaths since asleep-at-the-wheel statistics were broken into a separate category in 2005.
"People walk around perpetually sleep-deprived, and they don't recognize it," NTSB spokesman Christopher O'Neil said.
In 2014, the AAA Foundation did a comprehensive study that concluded that about 21% of crashes involved a drowsy driver. And 29% of drivers said that they drove at some point during the past month when they had trouble keeping their eyes open.
The AAA Foundation determined that drivers who had less than four hours of sleep had 11½ times the normal crash risk.
Just increasing the speed limit has resulted in nearly 37,000 deaths over the past 25 years, according to a recent report by the IIHS. Since the 1974 gas crisis, when the federal government imposed a 55 mph speed limit, speeds have crept up, with 41 states allowing limits of 70 mph or higher, six states permitting 80 mph and Texas letting drivers go 85 mph on some roads.
"Driving 70 instead of 65 saves a driver, at best, 6.5 minutes on a 100-mile trip," said Charles Farmer, the institute's vice president for research. He concluded that for each 5 mph increase in the posted speed limit, the fatality rate rose by 8%.
Farmer said in one year alone — 2017 — more than 1,900 people killed in crashes would still be alive if speed limits had not been increased.
"The difference is that people don't see it as a risk," NTSB board member Jennifer Homendy said. "I drive 60 miles to work every day on I-95, and I'm doing the speed limit. People are doing 75, 80 and 85 (mph) and are not thinking about it."
Landsberg quotes Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, who said, "One death is a tragedy, thousands (of deaths) are a statistic."
"But everyone of us knows somebody, or has been affected themselves by someone, who was lost on the highways, a family member, a friend or a co-worker," he said.
Heidi King, deputy administrator of the NHTSA, told a Senate committee this year: "For you and for me, that is friends, that is neighbors, those are colleagues, those are constituents that we care a great deal about."
ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast — She had eight hours, 32 packages to deliver and no addresses.
So the woman on the front lines of Africa's burgeoning e-commerce industry stayed on the phone, listening to directions: Look for the ice cream cart.
Viviane Lakpa's job was to find the customers — even if they were nowhere near the ice cream cart.
Few people in her West African city of 4.4 million have numbers on their houses. Credit cards are rare. So is trust in online shopping.
"You have to have patience," Lakpa said in her blue Mazda van crammed with microwaves, printers, shoe racks and soap. "Lots of patience."
Internet users in Africa now outnumber America's population by some estimates, but reaching that exploding market is among the continent's most pressing business challenges. Hopes of leaping into the world of same-day delivery are colliding with the lack of street signs, dominance of cash, threat of robbery and fear of knockoffs.
Labyrinths of red tape, meanwhile, stall packages at the borders.
Today only 1% of goods sold in Africa are purchased on a screen, but if that share swells to 10% - closer to U.S. and European levels — McKinsey analysts forecast annual sales will hit $75 billion, unleashing an economic boom and a new age of convenience on the continent.
Lakpa, 39, wants to make convenience her career. She's one of thousands in the region who deliver goods by car, truck and motorcycle for Jumia, Africa's biggest web retailer, with about 4 million users.
The fleet fluctuates with demand. Jumia enlists local firms to manage delivery staffers on contract in 14 countries. Pay, benefits and schedules vary.
Lakpa was on a two-week run that would net her 60,000 West African CFA francs, or about $100 - a step up from selling ginger juice out of her home.
She likes the revolving door of problems to solve. The go, go, go. Being a mom of four, she said, gave her the necessary skills.
"You have to communicate and be creative," she said on a recent route.
"This is the future," she said.
* * *
Jumia became the first startup from the continent to list on Wall Street this year, prompting pundits to dub it "the Amazon of Africa." The firm's stock shot up. Critics noted that a digital marketplace steered by Europeans shouldn't be called African.
Both potential and struggle manifested themselves in Jumia's first earnings report as a public company. Sales jumped by 58% over the last quarter to $268 million, executives reported in May, but losses deepened to nearly $51 million from $38 million.
Lakpa lives some of those losses. She works in a team of two with a former taxi driver, 37-year-old Anzoumana Gbane. He sits behind the wheel while she talks to customers, trying to figure out where they are and what time they can meet.
"Hello," she says again and again on a recent summer morning. "This is Jumia."
One customer no longer wants her soap. ("Are you sure?")
One man doesn't recall placing an order. ("I have that you wanted this for Tuesday.")
Another woman won't answer her phone.
All in the span of 10 minutes. Service cuts in and out. "Hello?"
Lakpa says as they bump from a paved road to a dirt path. "Hello?
I can't understand you." People normally tell her to meet near a landmark — pharmacies, hotels, banks, schools.
They start the day at a college campus and wait six minutes for a student who bought a printer to meet them.
Next, they park in front of a hair salon and wait seven minutes to sell a phone.
They park next on a patch of gravel to drop off a lighter. No one comes. The phone rings. The customer is actually a half-mile down the street. They pull up. There he is.
Cash is king in Ivory Coast and most other African nations. No sale is complete until money changes hands.
Sometimes, this leads Lakpa inside a customer's house or workplace. She follows a lawyer into his gray office and watches him open a cardboard box.
No one speaks as he pulls out an electric kettle. His assistant rushes over, fills it up with water and plugs it into the wall.
"I want to confirm that it works," the lawyer says.
Lakpa keeps an eye on the clock.
* * *
Jumia's warehouse in the industrial Koumassi suburb has steel gates, concrete walls and a line of workers waiting outside just after sunrise. They've come to sort packages, load cars, grab a new list of phone numbers and zip into the city, where they complete as many as 30,000 daily orders.
Half of Jumia's packages in Africa go to pickup centers. It's easier for rural folks to grab their goods from a physical location.
The other half is carried off by the contract workers. Many grew up in these neighborhoods.
"You can never replace the local knowledge, the local interaction," chief executive Sacha Poignonnec said. "It's about the details."
The details separate good staffers from lousy ones, said Martial Ohoukou, who supervises the Ivory Coast delivery team. Some days, that's 100 people. Some days, 250.
Yes, they start as contractors, agents of the global gig economy. There are upsides (flexibility, good pay) and downsides (irregular work, fear of messing up and never hearing from your boss again).
America's Amazon Flex and China's Alibaba follow similar labor models for what analysts call the last mile. But the work is much harder here. No one can rely on GPS.
"You have to be more than a common driver to advance at this company," Ohoukou said. "You have to know the products. You shouldn't be calling your supervisor all the time and asking, 'What should I do?' "
Those with tenacity can move up, he said. "My night manager started as a simple delivery agent," he said.
* * *
The pressure stays on for Lakpa. It's midday. Traffic clogs seemingly every road.
The delivery partners must finish by 4 p.m. for security reasons. A Jumia driver was robbed and killed two years ago in Nigeria while toting iPhones.
They roll down the windows on the way to the next destination, a downtown marketing firm, and breathe the usual smog.
The place is called Zen Communications. Relief: It's just off the highway. Easy to find.
They slide into a parking spot. Gbane stays in the van. Lakpa grabs an orange bag with the Jumia logo. Up the stairs she goes to an office with no windows.
An IT manager in a Hawaiian shirt greets her. He's not smiling.
Before they can discuss today's order, he wants to raise a grievance.
"I've been waiting for a receipt for a printer since April," he said. "I can't do my expenses without it."
Lakpa nods. She understands. She'll tell someone.
Then he reaches for her bag and pulls out printer cartridges. His eyes widen.
"Magenta?!" He'd ordered black ink. Lakpa stays calm. She's sorry about that. She'll get him the right color.
"This ride has been harder than usual," she says, walking outside. Three hours have passed, and she has delivered only three packages.
Gbane starts the engine without a word.
They'd go on to deliver 16 of the 32 orders that day.