One June morning six years ago, my 4-year-old son, Anton, and I piled our luggage into an SUV and headed off from Seattle for a short vacation at our family cabin in central Oregon.
I carefully buckled Anton into the passenger seat next to me. At nearly 50 pounds, he was too big for a carseat, and the front seats were the only ones with shoulder belts. At the time, there wasn't much awareness of the danger of having kids ride up front, and I truly believed Anton was in the safest seat of the car.
Three hours into our trip, we were driving along Interstate 82 through central Washington, a bleak stretch of road marked by sagebrush and gusting winds. Afternoon sun shone through Anton's window, and his head drooped to the side as he fell asleep. The radio was tuned to the news, but static frizzled the broadcast. Passing a semitrailer on the left, I glanced down to adjust the radio.
That's the last thing I remember. I later learned that the wind had buffeted us onto the shoulder of the road, where our front wheels tripped in the soft sand and ash. Our SUV rolled over three times.
When I regained consciousness, paramedics and state troopers were hovering over me. My face had been cut, my ribs and shoulder blade broken, and the skin and muscle on my left forearm scraped to the bone. But my seat belt had held me in, saving my life.
Next to me, however, the rescue workers found no one. Though his seat belt was still clicked shut, Anton had been thrown out of the popped-open door, and the SUV had rolled over him, killing him instantly. Just that fast, my little boy -- a bright, beautiful child with a warm spirit and a kind heart -- was gone.