Next-of-kin database one of first

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

Until last month, police and firefighters often had to go through a cumbersome and time-consuming process to locate the loved ones of victims of serious accidents.

A new Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles database will shorten that delay from hours to minutes, officials said. It is one of the first such efforts in the country.

Licensed Ohio drivers can provide names and contact information for two loved ones through the bureau's Web site,, or in person at a Bureau of Motor Vehicles office. There's no cost for the service.

In the event a driver is killed or injured too seriously to provide information on relatives, the emergency responders will be able to look up the information quickly, BMV Registrar Mike Rankin said. On average, officials said, it takes six hours for police or firefighters to track down relatives of victims.

The database, which Rankin said cost about $60,000, is largely the result of efforts by two women whose children died in car accidents.

One of them, Linda Wuestenberg of Westerville, was in bed on the night in February 2007 when her 33-year-old son, Steve Burge, rolled his pickup truck in Pickaway County. He died hours later in a hospital, while authorities and a co-worker frantically searched through phone and employment records to track down his mother, Wuestenberg recalled.

"I was cheated out of those last seven hours," she said.

Wuestenberg later teamed up with the other mother, Carmella Wiant, local police and a lawmaker, Rep. Jim McGregor, R-Gahanna, to make Ohio one of the first states to have a next-of-kin database for drivers.

Gov. Ted Strickland signed the database into law in May, and bureau officials set up the system for the database over the summer.

McGregor noted that being able to contact relatives more quickly also benefits the would-be recipients of organ donations.

So why didn't the database happen sooner?

Rankin, who has headed the BMV since April 2007, said there's no good answer.

"I think we've asked ourselves that a lot," he said. "The good news is, this program is in place now, and it benefits the public."

People 18 and older can list relatives or friends as emergency contacts, while those younger than 18 are required to name their parents or primary guardians.