Click it for Cassie continues to grow in its fifth year
Tom Geary wears four rings on three fingers. His gold wedding band and his father's on his left ring finger, a gold claddagh ring on his left pinky and a silver ring on his right pinky.
The silver doesn't go with the gold, but Geary could care less. The ring, made up of peace signs, was not intended for Geary and has been worked on by an artisan to make sure that the expansion band doesn't break again from regular wear.
The silver peace sign ring belonged to his daughter, Cassidy, who died in a car accident in 2008 at the age of 17, and has since become the symbol for the "Click it for Cassie" campaign.
Initially started as a way to for Tom and his wife, Anne, to let Cassie's friends and classmates know the importance of wearing seat belts, the campaign has grown to a national level in the five years since its creation. Cars with bumper stickers that read "Click it for Cassie" have been seen all over the country, even more so when the family placed public service announcements in magazines including Seventeen, Women's Day, Redbook and Good Housekeeping -- reaching more than 6 million people.
"The first day we had 350 requests from kids for the bumper stickers, so my comment to Anne is, `We need a bigger boat,'" Geary said. "It's leveled out, but we still get requests from every state in the country."
Since the ad ran more than two years ago, the Gearys still get "about 10" requests for the free bumper stickers each week.
Cassie had been traveling only 30 mph on Jan. 6, 2008, when she lost control of her car driving home from her boyfriend's house. The weather was poor and her car hit a telephone pole and then a rock wall. She was partially ejected from the car and had died as a result of blunt trauma.
The investigating officers told the Gearys that had Cassie been wearing her seat belt, she would have survived.
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After the accident, Geary retreated to Geary Gallery, the framing business the family owns in Darien, to get away from people looking to speak him and his wife.
"`My God, if only you had your seat belt on,'" Geary thought to himself when he passed a car that was exactly like Cassie's. By the end of the weekend, the idea for Click it for Cassie had been created.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people aged 18 to 24 have the highest crash-related injury rates of all adults and the use of a seat belt can reduce serious crash-related injuries and death by about 50 percent.
In 2008, according to the National Organizations for Youth Safety, 64 percent of the passenger vehicle occupants ages 13 to 15 and 21 to 34 killed in traffic crashes were not using restraints. These age groups had the highest percentage out of all age groups.
The Gearys' mission for their campaign is not to raise money but rather awareness.
Over the last few years, both of them have spoken at driver's education classes.
"They think they're invincible," Geary said of young people. "So I show that this was one of them."
Geary said the kids he talks to about Cassie's accident "tune in" a little bit because he tells them the story of one of their peers.
The next step, Geary said, is to find a way to have an even further outreach to kids who drive by creating a 20-minute video that can be shown across the country.
The message has been delivered in Darien.
A year following Cassie's accident, Geary said, he ran into the officer that was there that night. He told Geary he had recently responded to the scene of an accident of a car that had barrel rolled before coming to a rest. The officer saw the blue Click it for Cassie bumper sticker on the back of the car and knew the four teenage boys inside the car had been wearing their seat belts.
They had and they had all survived the crash.
The first summer after Cassie's death, the Gearys' son, Shane, started a softball tournament with the help of some of his friends in town to raise funds for the campaign. The funds are used to provide support for the free bumper stickers and other merchandise, which the public can purchased.
That first summer tournament, Tom Geary said, came together "haphazardly" but that it worked out in the end.
"If anyone was in our kitchen the day of the tournament, they would have thought they walked into the middle of a Jackie Gleason and Lucille Ball skit," Geary said. "We were making sandwiches at the kitchen table for everyone."
Darien supported the Gearys to provide a place for the tournament and they have three "generous" sponsors to help offset the costs of the park use for the day.
Every year, participation and the number of spectators increase, Anne said.
Last year, the Gearys estimated that there were between 1,500 and 2,000 people in and out of the park for the tournament throughout the day.
"It's also a day for all of Cassie's friends," Anne said. "They all just come to show their support."
Because many of Cassie's friends went away to college, the tournament is a time when they can get together and just spend the day in the sun and spending time with each other.
While the family is making improvements to the Click it for Cassie website and continuing to spread their message, they are not making aggressive moves to grow the campaign.
"We're letting it grow on its own," Geary said.
The softball tournament will take place on Saturday, June 15, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Calf Pasture Beach in Norwalk. Admission is free.
There will be 12 teams from all over Fairfield County competing for the top spot.
For additional information, contact 203-515-1058 or visit www.clickitforcassie.com.