Caltrans warns drivers to watch out for workers

June 21, 2011 12:13:27 AM PDT
The highway signs are up, warning everyone to watch out for highway workers. A maintenance worker was killed on Monday by a car -- the third one in the past few weeks.

The three Caltrans workers who've died in recent weeks were responsible for things like landscaping, filling potholes and picking up litter. The work itself isn't necessarily dangerous, but their environment is which is why the head of Caltrans is asking crews and drivers to be more careful.

It was a close call Monday night for Caltrans workers along Interstate 80 in Vacaville. An SUV weaving in and out of their work zone caused a multi-car collision. Luckily, no crews were hit, but in San Diego Monday morning, a Caltrans worker was struck by a moving car. Richard Gonzalez, 52, was picking up litter along Interstate 15 when the driver of a white Cadillac hit and killed him. He is the third Caltrans worker to die on the job in 48 days -- the most ever in such a short period of time.

"Highway workers have one of the most dangerous jobs in America," said Caltrans acting director Malcolm Dougherty.

Monday, Malcolm halted all maintenance work so managers could go over safety practices and policies with their employees.

"Look before you get out of the truck and always work facing toward traffic and just pray that you make it home safe I guess," said Caltrans maintenance worker Dimitri Agnes.

Agnes and Terrance Nash are Caltrans maintenance workers based in the East Bay. They say they appreciated the safety review, but they say ultimately, nothing can protect them from drivers going too fast.

"They see your truck with the sign, with the arrow pointing this way, with the thing down, but they will still come up right on you. It [is] scary sometimes. You know, I'll be bracing for impact and they want to give you the finger. You know we're just doing what we're told," said Nash.

Caltrans is hoping the motoring public will heed the warnings that began appearing mid-afternoon. The signs urge people to watch out for highway workers. The CHP says drivers who don't slow down near work zones will be ticketed.

"Remember that it only takes a split second of inattention to destroy the lives of so many people," said CHP Deputy Commissioner Max Santiago.

Caltrans says its crews are seven times more likely than the average worker to die while on the job. The department also says since the 1920s, 178 Caltrans employees have died while working.

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