By Julie Carr Smyth

April 4, 2018

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Kenny Lawson loved being a garbage collector.

The Germantown, Ohio, resident enjoyed working outdoors alongside his family, throwing his “solid as a horse” frame into physical labor that made people’s lives better. One customer left a cooler near the curb on hot days filled with cold pop.

“We treated them as family, they treated us as family,” Lawson said.

It all ended on March 12, 1996, in an explosion of speed. A car hurtled into Lawson, then 26, at 40 mph (64 kph) as he was retrieving a can from the truck, pinning him underneath the truck and wrenching his body nearly in half. His spine was crushed and he lost his legs.

“He didn’t even hit the brakes. He didn’t see the truck sitting there,” Lawson said. “It was a pretty dramatic hit. For the first three weeks, they told my wife I was dead.”

Lawson miraculously survived and he’s gone on to become a poster child for the risks of an industry that most people take for granted.

Fifty years after two sanitation workers’ deaths sparked a historic strike in Memphis that’s intertwined with the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., trash collection remains one the nation’s most dangerous jobs.

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