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Friday, May 6, 2016

Highway workers run constant risk

Monday, October 16, 2006

Highway worker injured

Around 10:30 a.m. Oct. 6, a three-man county highway crew was cutting brush in the area of C.R. 700 N and Murphey Ave. The county truck was parked in the road with all the safety equipment in place when Jon Yocom heard a vehicle approaching.

With a fellow crew member in the road picking up brush, Yocom put his arm out to stop the driver, but was hit by the motorist's side mirror as they drove by.

I couldn't tell you what they looked like or what they were driving, Yocom said. I think they knew they'd hit me, but it didn't slow them down. They missed Randy Grey by about four inches. It scared us both to death.

Yocom sustained a bruised forearm, but did not need medical attention.

Although he has had minor injuries from being hit by a vehicle while at work twice before, it isn't any easier the third time.

People just need to pay attention, he said. If you see us working along the road, just slow down.



If it hasn't already happened at least once, county highway workers say it is only a matter of time before someone hits them with a car or a pickup truck while they work along the 866 miles of roads in Clay County.

"People complain about the condition of the roads, and then when we try and fix them they almost run us over because they can't wait for us to move out of their way," said Ron Harden, a county highway worker. "It's not everyone, 90 percent of the drivers we see out there are understanding. They smile and wave and do the right thing, it's that other 10 percent that scares us."

County highway employees say they have seen all types of behavior; from obscene gestures to aggressive drivers that leave the road to drive in ditches to get around road crews.

The safety issue came to the Clay County Commissioners' attention after a highway worker sustained minor injuries from being hit by a vehicle mirror on Friday. (See the box.)

Confirming county ordinances and state laws regarding safety regulations for highway workers are being looked into, Commissioner Charlie Brown said safety for the 25-member department is a growing concern that might require stricter enforcement of existing laws or the creation of a new ordinance for the county.

"If (by looking into this matter) we save just one person from being hurt, or worse, its worth it," he said.

Brown said highway workers shouldn't have to worry about their safety while working for the citizens of Clay County.

"No matter what we do, someone will get angry," Harden said.

Weather permitting, road crews begin repair work at around 8 - 8:30 a.m., Monday - Friday, year-round; paying special attention to the time and place of each work area.

"The southern part of the county doesn't have the high traffic congestion, but there are hills and hollers to contend with. Sometime people don't see us, or they are so busy looking at what we're doing they drive right into the work area and the workers," said Terry Funk, a county highway employee for five years. "In the northern part of the county, where the industry is, like Great Dane, the traffic is crazy at certain times of the day. We try to schedule so we don't interfere with that, but sometimes we can't."

With speed limits posted from 35 - 55 mph, workers say people don't think about the consequences of their ignoring safety signs warning them to slow down.

"People need to know we're out there to help them," Funk said. "They need to put themselves in a highway workers place. Think, 'Would you want to work where people drive more than 60 mph within inches of you?' The human body doesn't have much of a chance against a vehicle. We all want to go home at the end of the day."

Clay County Sheriff Mike Heaton says highway workers can report dangerous drivers' license plate numbers to the department and tickets can be issued to the owner of the vehicle by the Prosecutor's Office.

"People who don't have family members that work in the types of jobs that put them on the roadways and in traffic, like highway and emergency response personnel, they don't realize the dangers of the job," Heaton said.

Harden agreed with the sheriff, but added, "All the safety precautions in the world won't work, it all depends on the driver. We all have to use common sense while driving. Just slow down and we'll get you through as quickly as possible."

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