As ‘100 deadliest days’ near, Idaho police officer wants to protect you from his pain
May 22, 2023 Updated Wed., May 24, 2023 at 6:41 p.m.
BOISE – Dressed head to toe in the navy blue uniform of the Caldwell Police Department, Tom Defur stood alongside his wife and four kids in the limited shade available in front of the Boise Towne Square mall Friday afternoon, as temperatures climbed to near 90.
A collection of BMW police motorcycles were parked just a few feet away, while in the basking sun stood an old and battered 2003 Chevy Cavalier, its front right side caved in, two chalk-white airbags deflated in the front seats.
That vehicle had nothing to do with Defur, but it had everything to do with the event at which he was speaking, about the deadly summer travel season on the roads.
Defur was there to talk about one of his daughters, Alyson. Asked about her, a broad smile covered his face, not showing the emotions otherwise hidden behind his sunglasses.
“She was a very, very tall girl, almost over 4 feet tall at a 4-year-old age. She could pick out her outfit very well,” Defur said. “She was all into jewelry, and she was very bright. I see a lot of that in the other kids I have.”
Defur was remembering a decade ago. Alyson never got to continue growing, picking outfits, or collecting jewelry. In July 2013, she was killed by a distracted driver who ran a stop sign at Orchard and Lake avenues in Nampa, flipping the Defur family truck.
“My wife and I witnessed her take her last breath on the scene,” Defur said. “And it took a lot of years to get over that.”
100 deadliest days of summer driving ahead
Just moments before that conversation, Defur stood before a crowd of onlookers behind a wooden podium bearing the Boise Police Department’s logo. To his left hung a giant yellow banner reading, “100 Deadliest Days of Summer Driving Ahead.”
“I have a passion for traffic and education. But that passion wasn’t born as a police officer,” Defur said, as a group of officers from the Boise and Caldwell police departments, Idaho State Police and the Ada County Sheriff’s Office stood behind him, along with officials from the Idaho Transportation Department.
“In fact, it was born 10 years ago on a hot July day when my family was involved in a traffic accident that killed my 4-year-old daughter,” Defur continued, taking an extended moment to compose himself.
Defur was one of several speakers Friday who was discussing traffic safety. He was joined by Boise Police Chief Ron Winegar and Boise Cpl. Kyle Wills, and ITD Highway Safety Program manager Josephine Middleton.
Winegar, recently announced as the permanent chief after serving in an interim position, opened the event by talking about the busy Memorial Day to Labor Day travel season. June through August are the most active months for traffic fatalities in Idaho, part of the “100 deadliest days.”
He pointed to the beaten-up Chevy, involved in a single-vehicle crash on the Interstate 184 Connector. The motorist was driving aggressively, Winegar said, before crashing into the center median wall and coming to a halt.
According to IDT, there were 72 fatal crashes on Idaho roads between Memorial Day and Labor Day last year. There have been 75 fatal crashes in Idaho in 2023, according to Middleton, putting the state on course to surpass the 273 deaths recorded in 2021, the most recent year for which full, final data are available.
In a news release it issued about Friday’s event, ITD said 15% of fatal crashes are related to distracted driving. Speed is also a significant factor. Speeding, which includes exceeding the posted speed limit or driving too fast for conditions, is considered aggressive driving. According to ITD, 35% of all fatal crashes are caused by aggressive driving.
“Law enforcement will be teaming up across the state of Idaho, and with our partners in neighboring states, to have an increased presence of traffic enforcement on our roadways,” Wills said. “We will be focusing on violations that are the major cause of crashes and fatalities on the roads in the state of Idaho.”
Finding a purpose in law enforcement
Defur said it took three years to find his purpose after his daughter’s death. He said he remembers the ISP trooper who came to the hospital to talk to him – Alyson was briefly on life support – and it still sticks with him.
His wife, Sarah, was and continues to be a firefighter for the Nampa Fire Department, and Defur said he was looking for a way to make an impact. At 35, he turned toward law enforcement, with the support of his wife, who said he needed to do something to “satisfy the desire” of making a difference and honoring his daughter.
“I felt like enforcement would be the best way to educate in the field of distracted driving, specifically young drivers,” Defur said.
For the past three years, he’s been on the Caldwell police traffic team and been part of the unit that drives Harley-Davidson police motorbikes. (He joked that he prefers those over Boise’s “Beemer” cycles.) He also teaches courses for the Alive at 25 program, which teaches young drivers the dangers of distracted driving.
Whenever he pulls over a driver and writes a ticket, he said he hopes to educate the person behind the wheel.
“(Alyson) has driven me to go into law enforcement,” Defur said. “My biggest inspiration is for her memory and the realization that the young driver that ran the stop sign, knowing maybe that that young driver had been stopped before for inattentive driving, would have stopped that accident.”
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe now to get breaking news alerts in your email inbox
Get breaking news delivered to your inbox as it happens.