When Lynn Chiotti was eight years old, she was walking her little brother down to the candy store on the corner. A typical four-year-old, her brother pulled away from her and ran out into traffic where he was hit. “I have never forgotten that sound of the bump,” she said.
That moment spurred a life-long dedication to traffic safety in and around Columbia County. Recently, Chiotti was honored for her work as the second recipient to ever receive the Mike Laverty Award, named for a long-time member of the Oregon Transportation Safety Committee who lost his battle with cancer in 2016, and given to someone for their lifetime achievements related to traffic safety.
Chiotti accepted the award at the annual Transportation Safety Conference in Wilsonville last fall from Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) Safety Committee Chair Victor Hoffer.
Fortunately for Chiotti, her brother’s injuries were not life-threatening, sustaining only a broken collarbone, but the moment impacted her life permanently. When she became a teacher, after her first two years, she was tapped to teach Driver’s Education. “Rather than just looking at the books and things, I tried to get the kids to understand, to be totally aware of everything that’s going around you, to know what your car is doing,” she said.
Then, in 1983, after several local young people died tragically in preventable crashes, Chiotti contacted Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), asking them to start a chapter in Columbia County. Chiotti said she felt compelled to reach out to them because she’d known several of the teenagers who’d lost their lives. “Number one, several of the crashes were near my home and all preventable, all alcohol related,” Chiotti said. “One of them was a close friend of mine’s son. I happened to be in California at the time of the crash, and it was one of those eerie experiences. I froze. I knew something had happened. I had no idea what.”
Chiotti came home to find that her friend’s son had been killed a block from her home. She said it was the “final straw that broke the camel’s back,” and spurred her to “get going.” Chiotti is still widely recognized by judges in the courtroom as a MADD advocate. She also works closely with prosecutors and victim families for justice, and still sits on the Columbia County Traffic Safety Commission as a representative for MADD.
“I’m happy to know that the people listened and realized what was going on here because once we got the chapter up and going, someone said, ‘you really ought to get involved with the Traffic Safety Commission,’ Chiotti said of her next step in her work that lead to the award. “I went to a meeting. Next thing I know they had elections. I have been Secretary of the Traffic Safety Commission since.
I knew MADD needed to be at the table.”
Meanwhile, Chiotti also served for several years on the Operation Student Safety and Move Advisory boards. She recently retired from 30 years of coordinating the Columbia County Victim Impact Panel, yet she remains active on the local safety commission and as one of three victim advocates for MADD in the Portland metro area.
In a press release about Chiotti’s award, officials said she is well-known in traffic safety circles and the 175 conference attendees who watched her receive the award, including engineers, law enforcement, community educators and traffic safety advocates. All, “applauded her accomplishments and supported her being named as only the second winner of the Mike Laverty Award.”
Perhaps most revealing of the impact Chiotti has had on Columbia County, is the reduction in serious and fatal crashes within it its borders. In 1983, the county had a high of almost 20 fatalities. Due, in part, to her efforts, the county now averages fewer than 10 fatalities a year, and youth fatalities in traffic crashes is almost zero.