Politics & Government

Lawmaker whose husband died of brain injury wants to reduce them in bicycling children

Personally touched by the tragedy of brain injury, state Rep. Regina Bunch is pushing a bill that would require children younger than 12 to wear a helmet while bicycling. The proposal contains no penalties.

Bunch, R-Williamsburg, said House Bill 122 would help educate people about the need to wear helmets while bicycling.

On April 12, 2011, her husband, Dewayne Bunch, then a state representative and a teacher at Whitley County High School, was knocked down and hit his head on the floor while trying to break up a fight between two students in the school cafeteria. He suffered brain and spinal cord injuries, and he died 15 months later at age 50.

Regina Bunch held a news conference Tuesday morning in the Capitol Annex to promote her legislation a few hours before the House Transportation Committee unanimously approved the measure and sent it to the full House for its consideration.

A similar bill had been considered in past sessions but ran into trouble because some legislators balked at setting penalties for not wearing a helmet.

At the news conference with Bunch was Heather Floyd of Oldham County and her 14-year-old son, T.J., who suffered a brain injury in a bicycle accident seven years ago.

“We are hoping by passing this bill, we can raise awareness about bicycling and brain injuries,” Floyd said.

She said T.J. was wearing no helmet when his bicycle collided with his brother’s bike.

“He never woke up, and we took him to Kosair Hospital,” she said. “They brought the chaplain in, and we waited about four hours. That was just the beginning.”

Floyd said her son is learning to walk again and is learning language, but “he still has a long way to go. It’s lifelong impact.”

A helmet would have lessened the damage, she said.

Eddie Reynolds, program director for the Brain Injury Alliance of Kentucky in Louisville, said that by educating people with such legislation, “saving one person from brain injury could save taxpayers millions of dollars.”

The group said 15 states have enacted age-specific bicycle helmet laws, most covering bicyclists younger than 16.

It also said that 70 to 80 percent of all fatal bicycle crashes involve head injuries, but only 18 percent of all bicyclists wear helmets.

Patrick Wesolosky, president of the Bluegrass Cycling Club, said his group supports the bill. “We think it is common sense for children to wear helmets but understand that there is a cost involved to the parent,” Wesolosky said.

Jack Brammer: 502-227-1198, @BGPolitics