Levi Shetler is a member of the conservative Swartzentruber Amish. This group is known for a very low-tech lifestyle. Even other Amish comment on the austerity of their lives and aversion to technology.
Last month, Shetler’s buggy was hit by a vehicle in his northeastern Ohio community, resulting in the death of a passenger.
As it turns out, this is the 54-year-old Amishman’s 14th buggy accident. None have been as tragic as this one, described as “by far the worst” Shetler has experienced.
Still, I was shocked by the number. Is this some kind of a record? From the Chronicle-Telegram article:
This first of Shetler’s accidents happened when he was 21, he said. Ten of the accidents occurred during daylight hours and four in the dark. Jan. 18 was the first time someone in an accident Shetler was involved in died.
Shetler’s wife, Dalila, has been married to her husband for 13 of his 14 accidents.
“It’s just the way it is, I guess,” she said.
Despite the accidents and deaths, Shetler said he won’t change the way he travels or marks his buggy. Shetler said he’s on the road almost daily and as long as he works, he’ll continue to get there by horse and buggy.
“It’s part of our religion, and I don’t doubt it,” he said.
Buggy accidents involve two moving pieces – the buggy, and the motor vehicle. Both can contribute to tragic occurrences happening. Amish in many communities want to improve safety, though friction can occur when church standards clash with public expectations (here’s a recent article addressing buggy safety in southern Michigan).
The Swartzentruber group is known for its resistance to change. While in some communities, you’ll find buggies lit up with a wide array of lighting, including strobe flashers and attention-grabbing turn signals, Swartzentruber carriages are only dimly illuminated – with meager reflectors and a single lantern (and no SMV triangle).
While some criticize the Swartzentruber Amish for their lack of lighting apparatus, Shetler has observed how technology also creates danger:
While driving a 2-mile stretch between Bursley and Jones roads recently, Shetler said, he counted 11 people coming toward his buggy who were either talking on phones or texting. That’s not counting the people coming from behind who might have been using phones, Shetler said.
Shetler said he often sees ruts and debris on the side of the road where it is obvious a car veered from the pavement for one reason or another.
People often fail to turn down their high beams when approaching Amish buggies head-on, Shetler said. It’s fine to approach from the rear with high beams, he said, but doing so from the front blinds the driver and the horse, which leads to buggies swaying and horses pulling wildly. It also can blind any drivers approaching from the rear, Shetler said.
If there was such a morbid thing as a buggy wreck record, I would wager the holder would be someone from the Swartzentruber Amish community.
Shetler adds, that he suspects some non-Amish consider his people “a nuisance”, possibly leading to aggressive driving:
It’s not uncommon for people to get extremely close to buggies, their car hubcaps sometimes touching the buggy wheels, or drive by within inches at 70 mph revving the engine and scaring the horse. Shetler has lost count of the times people fly by waving their arms, screaming or making obscene gestures, something he said farmers on tractors encounter as well.
“They go by so fast, it actually shakes the buggy, Shetler said. “We have quite a bit of that happening, and it seems to be happening more and more.”
At the same time, Shetler says he feels badly for the car driver in the accident, whom he knows, and does not blame him. The Amish community has reached out to the man.
Buggy road safety is clearly a concern in this community (as it is in many).
The uncle of the man who died in Shetler’s buggy last month, Jon Swartzentruber, was hit just 10 days after Jon, and passed away last week.