Posted Nov 24 2010 2:42PM
It's not unusual to think of small children anytime you see a familiar yellow school bus and those flashing red lights.
Kevin Martin is reminded of Kasey King-Thomas, a little kid he never met.
King-Thompson was 6 years old in June when he died in a school bus accident in Dresden, Ohio, not far from Martin's hometown of Zanesville.
The paths of the Rockets' guard and the small boy would never have crossed if Martin hadn't received a phone call from his grandmother.
"It was something that happened in my home area and obviously it touched her," Martin said. "So she got hold of me in Tampa, where I was doing offseason training and asked me if there wasn't something we could do."
Martin reached out and paid for the cost of the boy's funeral and covered other expenses. Then he allowed the family to use his name in their fight to enact "Kasey's Law," which would require all school buses in Ohio to be equipped with seat belts.
To the family, the actions of an NBA star were a godsend. But to Martin it was simply an act of kindness that he was in a position to provide.
"If you can help?" he asks, turning up the palms of his hands, "why not?
"No matter how old you are and no matter how far off you might have gone in life to build a career or make a living, I think all of us carry around a piece of our hometown with us. The experiences and the people I grew up with will always be in my heart and when my grandmother told me the story, I kind of felt a pull.
"I wasn't trying to be a celebrity or anything. I just wanted to do what I could to maybe help a grieving family with a problem when they were in pain. It was one less thing that they needed to concern themselves with when they were hurting. What we already knew was that this was a family that had a big heart themselves."
Kasey was among a brood of 10 children belonging to Joe and Randi King-Thomas, one of five adopted from foster homes that blended with five of their own offspring. The teeming family had saved the money to buy their rental home when the landlord put it up for sale and were only a few weeks from closing on the deal when Kasey was killed in the accident. Funeral expenses would have wiped out the down payment on the home and the King-Thomas family would have been forced to move in the midst of their grief.
"One more problem they didn't need," Martin said. "These are just good, loving, nurturing people who already opened their home and their hearts to try to help out others. So I got in touch with my manager and flew her in there and asked her to do whatever she could.
"The reception that she received was emotional. They cried when she came to the house. They said they couldn't believe that somebody was doing something like this for them. But I think it was something they deserved after they spent years doing good things for other people. So we paid some bills. When they asked if I would help their campaign to get seat belts required in school buses, I agreed. Who wouldn't?"
Adding seat belts to buses is a hot topic in communities around the nation. Backers of mandatory seat belt laws maintain that they could save the lives of children killed in rollover accidents like that one that claimed Kasey. Opponents of such laws say that seat belts slow down rapid evacuation of buses in major accidents and are not needed in most minor collisions.
"I'm not getting into the campaign to be a political figure or anything like that," Martin said. "I just know what I feel in my own heart. I know what I think is the right thing to do.
"You're required to put seat belts on kids every time they get into your car and you're required to wear them yourself as an adult. It just seems to make sense that an innocent kid from my hometown might still be alive if he had a seat belt that day. I think of that now every time I see a school bus."
A simple touch that made Kevin Martin reach out to a little boy he never met.
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