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Slow down, injured officer says

By Janice Gregorson

gregor@postbulletin.com

Yemane Berhane could hear the engine of an approaching vehicle as he neared the front of his parked squad car.

He glanced back and saw headlights coming right at him.

Seconds later he was on his police radio, yelling, "Officer down. I need help. I need help."

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That was Dec. 7, 2008. Berhane was trying to help a family whose vehicle had slid off the icy road and into the ditch. Instead, he became the one needing help.

"I was laying there. I could see blood. I didn’t know where it was coming from. It was cold," he said recently. "I thought I was going to die."

The Rochester police officer suffered back and neck injuries and was out of work for a month. He continues to receive treatment for pain.

Still, he says, he is fortunate. He is alive.

Berhane says what happened to him is a daily concern of every law enforcement officer, firefighter and paramedic going out on accident calls. He urges motorists to be more careful.

Nearly nine years ago, State Trooper Ted Foss of Winona was killed while working traffic on Interstate 90 near Lewiston.

Foss had stopped a minivan for a speeding violation on Aug. 31, 2000. He was standing next to the van talking with its occupants. A tractor-trailer rig veered off the road, hitting Foss’ squad car and the minivan. Foss was dead at the scene.

Within a year, a new state law was in effect. The "Ted Foss Move Over Law" is designed to give emergency vehicles and personnel room to work. That law requires drivers to move over and slow down when passing stopped ambulances, fire trucks, law enforcement vehicles or road work vehicles.

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"People still drive too fast," said Berhane, 38. "People need to think that that officer or worker could be their brother, dad, son or friend. Take care of them."

Back on the job, Berhane said it took months before he felt comfortable again making traffic stops.

"My sense of hearing has quadrupled," he said. "Before I didn’t pay attention to cars flying by me. Now, I can feel the wind."

Page A3: "Oooo — this is going to hurt’

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