*This story originally appeared in The Budget’s Jan. 31, 2018 Local Edition.
By Stacey Carmany
On August 7, 2006, a Mechanicsburg mother experienced every par- ent’s worst nightmare.
That morning, Carmela Wiant received a frantic phone call from her son’s fiance informing her that her son, David Money, had been in an accident on his way to work and had been transported to a Columbus area hospital and asking her if she had heard anything.
Upon calling the hospital, Wiant learned that her son had passed away hours before, just days short of his 24th birthday. She never had a chance to say goodbye.
In the wake of David’s death, Wiant began advocating for a better system to connect law enforcement and first responders with contact information for the next of kin of individuals involved in automobile accidents or other emergency situations. Out of that effort was born the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles’ Next of Kin registry which now includes next of kin information for nearly 1.2 million Ohioans.
Wiant recalls coming up with the idea for the registry during a phone conversation with Sgt. Carl Hickey, the officer assigned to her son’s case. “My last question to him was, ‘What do you do when you come to an accident, whether it’s fatal, it’s not fatal? What’s the first thing you do?’” Wiant recalled. “He said, ‘We put in the driver’s license.’”
Wiant asked the sergeant what information came up when David’s driver’s license number was entered, to which the sergeant responded “only David’s information.”
“I’m like, ‘What about putting next of kin on our driver’s license?’” Wiant recalled. “He’s like, ‘Carmela, that is an excellent idea.’”
Wiant immediately called the office of Senator Keith Faber and pitched her idea to a staffer named Tom. “He’s like, ‘Carmela, I’m hanging up and starting the research on this right now,’” Wiant recalled.
The Money-Burge Act, named in honor of David Money, passed exactly one year later.
Governor Ted Strickland officially signed the bill into law on May 1, 2008, in front of Wiant and her grandson. “I just felt David in the room with us, and it was like, ‘Wow. It’s here. It really happened,’ ” Wiant said of the experience. “I remember screaming, “We did it, David! We did it!”
Wiant explained that her mission in spearheading the effort was to ensure that no other parent ever has to receive tragic news about a loved one the way she did.
“So many people do not have landlines now, so it’s even harder for police to find family, and many of them have told me that 85 percent of the time they have to go back to your place of employment because that’s where you have your two next of kin,” she shared. “Everybody at work knows about it before your family does. I know that’s true because that’s what happened to us.”
Wiant explained that the brother of David’s fiancee had worked at the same place as David, and that’s how she came to find out about the accident.
Lt. Mark Glennon of the New Philadelphia Post of the Ohio State Highway Patrol shared that the Next of Kin registry can be especially helpful in locating family members in the event of a crash involving someone who is from another area. “If they’re not from this area, and they’re transported to the hospital or anything and we need to try to make contact with someone and let them know where this person is at, that’s what that is supposed to be used for,” he shared. “It’s a good tool for us to use if we need to.”
He added that the registry may also be helpful in locating the families of elderly individuals who may be lost. “Say we come across someone who may be a little bit lost, not sure where they’re at, and they can’t give us a number to contact someone with. We can get into there and use that if they’ ve registered through the BMV.”
Even with a Next of Kin registry now available in Ohio, Wiant’s work is far from over. Over the last decade, she has continued to advocate for similar legislation in other states.
Wiant noted that Next of Kin registries have now been established in about 15 states including Indiana, Illinois, Tennessee, South Carolina and New Jersey. She is currently working with officials in North Carolina to establish a registry in that state.
In addition to pushing for other states to establish their own Next of Kin registries, Wiant encourages everyone she meets from Ohio to register their information online or through their local BMV and to keep that information up to date.
“I just try to keep it out there as much as I can. I try to tell people all the time about it because it can happen to you,” she shared. “What you’re doing is you’ re protecting yourself and your family.”
Next of Kin registration is available in Ohio to anyone with a driver’s license or state-issued photo id, according to Lindsey Bohrer, BMV public information officer for the Ohio Department of Public Safety. “Children or anybody, for that matter, could get an id, and then they could get the next of kin,” she explained. “The only caveat is that if you are 18 or younger, one of the contacts has to be a parent or guardian.”
Next of kin information can be registered and updated in person at any Ohio BMV office or online by visiting www.bmv.ohio.gov/dl-other-next-kin.aspx.