Inside Seven
Current Issue: April 2014
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Feature

Caltrans Remembers the Fallen at Workers Memorial Event 


by  Patrick Chandler
Issue Date: 05/2010

District 7 employees and guests took a moment out of their day on Thursday, May 6 to recognize and remember District 7 workers who were killed on the job in the Dodger Stadium’s parking lot.

Statewide, Caltrans has lost 174 employees since 1924, when the Department began keeping records of such fatalities.

“This is always a sad occasion and one we all wish was unnecessary. Though, I am glad to say that no District 7 employees were killed in the line of duty in the past five years,” said Deputy District Director of Maintenance Dan Freeman.

For his first Workers Memorial as District Director, Mike Miles said, “As we recognize our fallen friends, family members, and colleagues, take a moment to think about your loved ones and make sure safety is your number one priority for the public, your colleagues, and you.”

The California Highway Patrol (CHP), Caltrans partner agency whose officers know all too well the danger of highway work was represented at the event.

“Highway safety is very personal to me and the Highway Patrol,” said Assistant Chief Dan Bower. “It is so easy for all of us to take for granted that the guardrails get fixed, potholes get filled, the weeds get sprayed, the trash gets picked, but what motorists do not realize is that there are people behind the cones and barricades with lives and families.”

“Nationwide in 2008, we lost 900 highway workers in work zones, almost one every eight hours,” said George Swift, president of the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE). “This is a very dangerous job. I hope that everyone makes it their personal responsibility to stay safe and go home at the end of the day.”

President of the Professional Engineers in California Government (PECG) Shabbir Ahmed encouraged the public to think about freeway safety. “Motorists need to slow down because ahead is someone’s son or daughter, mother or father who is trying to make a living for his or her family by improving and maintaining the highway system,” said Ahmed.

Reporting on traffic has sensitized KABC-TV 7 Traffic Reporter Alysha Del Valle to the dangers of highway work, and she is now a much more cautious and considerate driver. Del Valle admitted that before she was a traffic reporter she used to eat Tommy’s Burgers while driving and was impatient behind the wheel. “Now more than ever, we need the good workers at Caltrans. I promise every day with my traffic reports to push even further to encourage motorists to slow for the cone zone,” said Del Valle.

This year there was a change in how the names of the fallen highway workers were read. Staff volunteers who have been injured in the line-of-duty briefly explained how they were injured and read the names of the fallen workers.

District Photographer Thomas Ritter, Right of Way Agent Gary George, Safety Specialist Rick Harrison, and Personnel Technician Eusebio Branom experienced firsthand the near death experiences of highway work.

“Safety rules and precautions alone will not guarantee your safety. The buck stops with you. Assuming no one sees you is a good place to start and then you have to be vigilant to maintain your safety,” said Thomas Ritter.

“The memorial was poignant and celebratory at the same time,” said Maintenance Liaison Gregory Townsend, who also attended the memorial for the first time. “As a Caltrans family, we took time to remember the family members we lost.

“As long as there are motorists who are complacent, inattentive, impaired, reckless, all motorists and highway workers will continue to be at risk,” said Miles.

Every year more than 1,000 motorists die in highway work zone crashes and more than 40,000 people are injured. As a result of these dangers, fines for speeding in work zones have increased to $1,000 or more. It’s up every motorist to Slow For The Cone Zone, and put an end to the senseless death and injury of thousands of highway workers and motorists.