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DATE: September 22, 2004

INCIDENT TYPE: Fatal Injury, Flagger Facing Possible Criminal Charges (No Caltrans Employees Involved)

LOCATION: District 6 - Fresno


THE INCIDENT: The following is a recent newspaper article:

The Fresno Bee (Updated Wednesday, September 22, 2004, 10:22 AM)
"Flagger May Face Charges In Death" By Marc Benjamin
May accident killed a Clovis East teen and injured her friend.

A traffic flagger may be charged with manslaughter stemming from a May accident that killed a Clovis East High School student and seriously injured her friend. Witnesses said flagger Kathryn Ann Fifer, 25, of Sanger was working on May 7 when the accident occurred on Fowler Avenue near Belmont Avenue. Witnesses said she had moved the stop sign away from herself and waved her arm, leading the driver of the car to believe it was safe to move ahead. Seconds later, a Caterpillar earth-moving vehicle slammed into the car, killing passenger Kimberly Marie Hamilton, 16, and seriously injuring the driver, Rebecca Lynn Carey, 16. Whether charges are filed will be decided by the Fresno County District Attorney's Office.

In her statement to California Highway Patrol investigators, Rebecca said she saw Fifer talking to a man on the road's shoulder. "The flag girl then lowered her sign down towards her side and walked to the shoulder," the girl told investigators in the CHP's accident report. Rebecca then said she drove ahead slowly in the southbound lane of Fowler Avenue. When she saw the other flagger with his sign still being held up, Rebecca said she "thought it was kind of strange that the man was still standing there," the CHP report said. The next thing she remembered was her friend Kimberly screaming, she said. Another witness, Maxine Vasquez, 37, gave a similar account. She said Fifer was talking to someone in a red truck and then watched Fifer lower the sign "down to her thigh level and waved her left hand from the elbow out, for the car to go." Vasquez told investigators it "was obvious to her the stop lady motioned the blue car through." Fifer said she was continuing to hold the stop sign up as she walked toward a pickup truck that was following the earth-moving vehicle. She asked the driver, Dean Carlton, if he wanted to go, but he mouthed "no" to her. She said Rebecca's car had to swerve to get around her and she pounded a rear door and yelled "hey" to urge her to stop. The driver of the Caterpillar, Mike Hernandez, 55, said Fifer had not been doing her job as flagger properly, the CHP report said. He said she was making motions toward the man in the truck on the east side of the road. While he said he did not see Fifer dropping her sign, Hernandez said she had been flirting with men on the construction site and previously saw her throw water balloons at scrapers as they passed. Joe Duke, 49, of Clovis, said he watched Fifer drop the sign to her waist and then motion with her left hand over her right shoulder. As soon as she motioned over her right shoulder the blue car traveled southbound, Duke said in the CHP report.

In determining the accident's cause, CHP investigators said the lowered stop sign observed by witnesses combined with Fifer walking to the roadside "could lead an individual to believe that it was safe to proceed forward through the construction zone." Todd Barsotti, the attorney representing Mary Sappington, Kimberly's mother, said "there are going to be some other issues" brought up when the case is heard in court, but declined further comment on the case. "It is such a tragedy," Barsotti said. "Kimberly had been given an assignment at school that day and was asked 'what makes you genuinely happy' and she said hanging out with her mom.' " That afternoon she was en route to buying her mother a Mother's Day gift, he said. "She and her mom were very close," Barsotti said. "It's every parent's worst nightmare."

CONCLUSIONS: This article clearly shows the importance of proper flagging procedures and the possible consequences to the public as well as the flagger.

RECOMMENDATIONS: All flaggers should receive proper training before being placed in charge of traffic control. Refer to Chapter 8.27 (Flagging Operations) of the Caltrans Maintenance Manual for more information.



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