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Indiana mothers taking action to call for required youth ATV helmet law

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Our summer danger series continues with the call of two mothers for tougher state laws regarding our kids, ATVs, and helmet use.

Both mothers lost children in Indiana ATV accidents a decade apart and their words now may be getting action.

From 2011 through 2015, 385 drivers under the age of 18 have been involved in ATV crashes in Indiana. Some of those, unfortunately, were deadly. This category of children far outpaces any other age group in the state.

Two grieving mothers believe our children are at risk. They want state lawmakers to act.

A softball field is where parents and young girls make memories. But now the diamond is where Ashlee Bruggenschmidt comes to feel closest to her 11-year-old daughter Kate. Her world changed last July.

“She was just an all-around great kid,” said Ashlee. “As a parent, I had no idea that she was on an ATV until they called us and told us about the accident. Actually whenever they called, she was already dead. She died immediately on the scene.”

Kate was playing in a softball tournament in Jasper, Indiana and went home with a teammate between games. The 73-pound, 11-year-old got on a 650-pound ATV with no helmet. It rolled over on her and crushed her head.

“We were anticipating seeing her back on the softball field in about three or four hours, but instead three or four hours later, we were trying to make arrangements for her funeral,” said her mother.

In the months since Kate’s death, Ashlee formed the Play for Kate Foundation and became an advocate for youth helmet laws on ATVs in Indiana, knowing a helmet could’ve saved Kate’s life.

“I definitely think she would've had a fighting chance. She died from blunt force trauma, massive cerebral disruption to her head. All of the damage was to her head,” said Ashlee.

Indiana has no youth helmet law and requirements vary by state.

Neighboring states Michigan and Kentucky have tougher rules. Michigan mandates riders under 16-year-old have a safety certificate to drive an ATV, and helmets and eye wear must be worn.

Kentucky law requires helmets for youth and restricts certain youth ridership on ATVs based on engine size.

“What we see a lot is that ATVs are so big that kids are on ATVs that are too big for them. When they fall, they roll over, they crush the child,” said Joe Haywood, Indiana Conservation Officer.

Haywood said parents should be educated on the sizes and weights of ATVs and make their kids wear helmets.

“I know the equipment`s expensive, you have to buy a bigger helmet, a bigger chest protector, but you can`t put a price on your kid`s life,” said Patty Reyling.

Reyling’s 16-year-old son Kenny died in an ATV accident in Crawford County 12 years ago. He had a helmet on, but it did not save him.

“He was (thrown) into and hit one tree,  and then he was (thrown) into another tree,” said Reyling. “So, he hit two trees.”

Patty started her own public awareness campaign so parents would pay attention to the dangers of ATVs. She raised thousands of dollars and helped the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) wrap a truck for awareness.

Now she hopes Indiana lawmakers pay attention and do something.

“It makes you feel like your kid didn’t  die for no reason, that something good is going to come out of it,” said Reyling, “It`s not all been for nothing.”

“If the helmet law saves one kid`s life isn`t it worth it? As a parent who lost a child, absolutely,” said Ashlee Bruggenschmidt.

Critics of helmets believe they can limit vision and line of sight and may actually pose dangers themselves, but the mothers dismiss those arguments.

Two state lawmakers FOX59 spoke with said the issue will be brought up in the next legislative session. They’ll be looking at mandatory helmet use for juvenile riders though the age hasn’t been decided. They’ll also be considering ATV safety course requirements for kids.