INDIANAPOLIS — A collage of photos shows a happy Savannah Bettis in her purple graduation gown and cap. Other pictures show a smiling long-haired blonde looking forward to her 2015 commencement at Ben Davis High School.
The pictures routinely accompany John and Wendy Bettis as they tell of their daughter’s death from carbon monoxide poisoning.
Their daughter, Savannah Bettis, 18, died June 4, 2015, on the last day of high school. She was inside a car driven by her boyfriend, Jesse Hurt, 20, when he lost control. Savannah hadn’t been feeling well and they were headed to a hospital in Avon.
Jesse had called the Bettises to tell them to meet the couple at the hospital.
“They didn’t make it, neither one of them, to the hospital,” John Bettis recalled.
Jesse survived the crash. Neither Jesse nor Savannah knew the exhaust system had a leak; both were overcome by the fumes. Savannah’s injuries were severe enough that the trauma could have been fatal as well, a coroner said.
Instead, John and Wendy Bettis walked the graduation line to accept their daughter’s diploma.
As a response to the tragedy, Senate Bill 100, authored by Sen. Michael Delph, R-Carmel, allows fire departments to conduct carbon monoxide testing in passenger compartments at no charge for vehicle owners. Testing would be voluntary. The fire departments wouldn’t be held liable in a civil lawsuit if the test were conducted in good faith.
In talking with mechanics, Delph said, there were basically two ways to check on exhaust: One is to test the air and the other is to visually inspect an exhaust system.
Wayne Township, the home of Ben Davis High School on the west side of Indianapolis, initiated a testing program two years ago, said Wayne Township Deputy Fire Chief Wayne Scott.
The Bettises have “worked tirelessly” to bring the issue before the Indiana General Assembly, Delph said. The couple bought 10 testing devices they will distribute to fire departments.
Delph’s bill, known as Savannah’s Law, passed 48-0 out of the Senate and now goes to the full House after moving Wednesday from the House Roads and Transportation Committee.
“We are effortlessly trying to protect others in the community with this. It’s a simple 10-minute test inside the cab of the vehicle,” John Bettis said. “It’s run five minutes on air conditioning and five minutes on heat.”
He noted that parents typically buy used cars for teens. The law offers them a voluntary test for safety, he said.
“That’s 10 minutes out of somebody’s life or you can live with a lifetime of grief like me and Wendy have to,” John Bettis said.
Carbon monoxide poisoning leads to at least 400 deaths a year nationally, Delph said, and about 15,000 trips to an emergency room.
“Since the gas is colorless, odorless and tasteless, this dangerous poison has the potential to turn a car into a missile and that is unfortunately what happened in this case,” Delph said.
Avon Assistant Police Chief Brian Nugent has said an investigation revealed that a piece of metal had been placed years earlier over a hole in the engine block to prevent leaks. However, that piece had broken down over time, Nugent has said.
In addition, there were fatal amounts of carbon monoxide in Savannah’s body.
“Our agency was absolutely stunned when we received toxicology repor ts that showed a high lethal dose of carbon monoxide in not only Savannah’s test but with the driver of the vehicle, her boyfriend,” Nugent said.