Yahaira Marquez, juvenile case manager for the Harker Heights Municipal Court, hugs Lance Dugger after he received a certificate for his volunteer work with the court. Dugger organized an expo teaching the community about traffic safety issues.

By Kim Steele
Killeen Daily Herald

HARKER HEIGHTS — Municipal Court employees are crediting a 15-year-old Eagle Scout with helping the city win a state-sponsored Traffic Safety Award for the third year in a row.

Court administrator Julie Helsham said Lance Dugger, a sophomore at Harker Heights High School, organized the Safety and Health Awareness Expo at Carl Levin Park in April. The all-day event brought in about 2,000 people who learned about traffic safety from 57 area organizations and businesses.

“Lance pretty much took the lead in this event and we were able to support him in it,” said Helsham. “Every year, we’ve done little things to win the award, but last year we wanted to do something big, and we were able to do it because of Lance. He overcame a lot of obstacles to pull this off, and I’m so proud of him.”

The award, sponsored by the Texas Municipal Courts Education Center’s Municipal Traffic Safety Initiatives and funded by the Texas Department of Transportation, recognizes municipal courts that have made outstanding contributions to increase traffic safety.

Applicants were judged on their efforts to decrease traffic crashes and fatalities, juvenile drunk driving, child-safety-seat offenses, red-light running and other traffic-related offenses. There were 21 chosen in three categories: high-volume, medium-volume and low-volume courts.

Ceremony March 20

The municipal court, which competed in the category of low-volume courts with a city population below 30,000, will be given its award March 20 during a

presentation in Addison. Also, court representatives will participate in a session in which other courts can hear about their programs and successes.

Dugger said he came up with the idea for a safety expo and presented it to the municipal court as part of earning his Eagle Scout badge, which requires a project that benefits the community. Dugger said city officials suggested he combine it with a children’s event sponsored by the Killeen Junior Service League.

The safety expo brought in various traffic-safety vendors. Hillcrest Medical Center sponsored a car-seat safety booth and provided information on the dangers of leaving a child alone in a vehicle. TxDOT brought in the “Rollover Convincer,” which showed what happens when a vehicle rolls over and its occupants aren’t wearing seat belts.

Also, the event included “Jaws of Life” demonstrations by the Harker Heights Fire Department, crawl-throughs of Bell County Fire Chiefs Association’s Smoke House and performances by Fort Hood K-9 dogs.

“I’ve always been an overachiever,” said Dugger, wearing a sash covered with Boy Scout badges. “In this case, I wanted to push the boundaries and leave my mark. Initially, I didn’t plan for this event to be so big, but it kept growing. I knew it would be a lot of work, but in the end, we pulled it off.”

Two months on project

Dugger said he worked for two months on the project, sending out about 25 emails daily to organizations and businesses he thought would be interested in the expo. Dugger said his Eagle Scout project requires a minimum of 80 hours of volunteer time donations, and his volunteers and vendors logged 2,153 hours.

“After the expo was over, I felt like I had accomplished a lot,” said Dugger. “It was a big feat for me, and it proved that I had the skills to do it. … I hope it serves as an inspiration to other Scouts as to what they can achieve.”

Because of Dugger’s vision and input, the municipal court has created an Eagle Mentor program for Boy Scouts interested in focusing on traffic safety for their Eagle project.

Helsham said it would be a challenge for other Scouts to top the safety expo, but she is willing to help them try.

Other projects cited

Helsham said the municipal court won its award for other projects, including teaching children about seat-belt safety. Also, elementary school children took a tour of City Hall and learned what to do if they are in a traffic accident.

In addition, the court dealt with traffic safety in its Teen Court sessions. And each month, the court sponsored an hourlong “Preparing Teens for the Future” session that included learning about traffic laws.

“We have to keep being innovative in the way we reach out to our community about traffic safety,” said Helsham. “This is a transient area because of the number of military people, and with so many coming here from other states, they are not familiar with the laws in Texas. Traffic safety is very important to us.”